Unlawful Assembly - Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code

Unlawful Assembly - Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code
March22

Posted In: Constitutional Law

Posted By: abhishek.ag2000

Tags: Indian Law, agreement, law, legal

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Unlawful Assembly - Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code

  1. Introduction

Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code provides the punishment for unlawful assembly with a weapon in India. It states that anyone joins an unlawful assembly with a deadly weapon will be liable to imprisonment of up to two years and/or a fine if proven guilty. In the light of this it is important for us to understand what exactly unlawful assembly is and the laws against it in India.

  1. What is the Fundamental Right to Assembly in India?

Firstly, the Indian Constitution has granted the fundamental right to its citizens to peacefully assemble without weapons. This has been provided under Article 19 (1) (b) of the Indian Constitution. The important aspect of this provision is the use of words “peacefully” and “without weapons”. This is a clear indication that the Constitution has granted Indian citizens to gather and assemble but the assembly has to be peaceful. Further, Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution provides certain reasonable restrictions on the fundamental right to peacefully assemble and the government or an appropriate authority can suspend these rights if it is in the interest of national security or to maintain peace. 

  1. How is Unlawful Assembly defined under Criminal Law?

Given this background, let us understand what unlawful assembly encompasses. In the case of Babulal Parate vs. State of Maharashtra, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India ruled that there is indeed a right to hold public meeting, assemble, and take out processions, however before doing so the concerned organizers of such an event have to ensure that there is a maintenance of public order. It ruled that this public order must be maintained beforehand and the authorities in India should have the power to take anticipatory action in cases where there is an apprehension that public order may be what violated. Thus, the Indian Constitution and the Supreme Court in India allow the freedom to assemble but with certain restrictions that they should not be unlawful.

 The definition of unlawful assembly has been given under Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The definition states that an assembly of five or more persons can be deemed as an unlawful assembly if there is a common object amongst them to commit an offense or an omission. Thus, there are certain essential elements to unlawful assembly. These essential elements are:

  • the unlawful assembly must include five or more persons,
  • they must have a common object,
  • and this common object should include committing one of the five unlawful acts mentioned in the section.

The courts in India have upheld these three elements many times. The element of assembly of five persons was upheld in the case of Dharam Pal Singh vs. State of Uttar Pradesh (1975). The fact that the assembly must have a common object was clarified in the case of Sheikh Yusuf vs. Emperor (1945). The court in the case ruled that the “object” defined here means that the purpose to do a thing and the word “common” means that there has to be an agreement between all of the five or more persons to do the act. 

  1. What are the five acts that are considered illegal under Section 141?

The five acts that have been declared illegal under section 141 of Indian Penal Code include:

  • To overawe Government by criminal force: The word overawe used here means to create a fear in the mind of a person. In the context of section 141 of the Indian Penal Code acts of overthrowing the government by criminal force include the actions such as rioting or throwing stones over burning buses. The instances of such actions had been seen in the recently widespread anti CAA protests.
  • To resist the execution of law or legal process: When an unlawful assembly stops the execution of a legal process such as court proceedings like hearings then it would be included under this section. An example of this would be if an assembly of more than five persons stop the hearing of a prisoner in a court of law. 
  • To commit an offence: If an assembly of five or more persons have a common object and proceed to commit an offense under any of the provisions of the Indian Penal Code or other local laws, then they would be held liable under this section.
  • Forcible possession or dispossession of any property: If an assembly of 5 or more than five persons deprive an individual their right to property by the use of criminal force then they would be held liable under this section.
  • To compel any person to do illegal acts: If an assembly of five or more than five persons force another individual to commit an offense or an illegal act with force or intimidation with a common object then they would be held liable under this section.

Section 142 of the Indian Penal Code has provided clarifications as to who could be deemed as a member of an unlawful assembly. Section 142 states that if an individual knows that there is an unlawful assembly and with that knowledge joins the unlawful assembly and continues to be a member of it then he would be deemed as a member of that unlawful assembly. The essential element of this section is that the person has to be “aware” that the unlawful assembly is in process and yet continues to be a part of it. The word “continues” here means there has to be a physical presence and it was ruled so in the case of Emperor vs. Sheo Dayal (1933). It is important to note here that a mere bystander cannot be held liable under this section. 

Section 143 of the Indian Penal Code provides the punishment for unlawful assembly. Under this section a person could be imprisoned for up to six months and/or be fined for being a part of an unlawful assembly. As discussed before Section 144 provides the punishment for being a part of an unlawful assembly with a weapon. Further, the Section 145 of the Indian Penal Code provides the punishment for continuing to be a part of an unlawful assembly even with the knowledge that the assembly has been commanded to disperse. The command to dispersal mentioned here has to come from a police official under the powers provided to the officer by Section 129 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.

  1. Conclusion

Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code prohibits unlawful assembly with a weapon. In India, the citizens have a full right to peacefully assemble and rally against a cause, show support or do any other kind of activities. However, there is a restriction to such assemblies, and no one can break the laws of India while being part of an assembly like bringing a weapon to an assembly.

 

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