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This article has been written by Smaranika Sen from Kolkata Police Law Institute. This article exhaustively deals with criminal activities and their nature, scope, etc.


Any act that is forbidden by the law to perform is committed by any person or any act that is ordered by the law to perform is refused to perform, then such an act or refusal is called a crime. A crime is an unlawful or illegal activity. Such activity, however, can be differentiated either as criminal activity or civil wrong. The question that arises is, what can be denoted as criminal activity or civil wrong? 

Through this article, we will be understanding the concept of criminal activities, their nature, scope, etc.

Meaning of criminal activities

There is no proper definition to describe criminal activities. In India, the Indian Penal Code of 1860 (IPC) states the punishment for most criminal offences. The IPC has also not defined criminal activities. However, it has laid down certain facts which can be considered as what can come under the purview of criminal offences. As per Section 40, anything which is punishable by the IPC can be stated as an offence. The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1908, also to an extent defines criminal offences. It states that any act or omission which is punishable by any law in force, and also any act on which a complaint is made under Section 20 of the Cattle-Trespass Act, 1871, can be referred to as a crime.

There have been several jurists and philosophers who have given their definition of crime. Famous English jurist William Blackstone had defined the term crime as any such act that had been committed or had been omitted in the violation of any public law is termed as a crime. Sergeant Stephen, an English philosopher, had also defined crime. According to his definition, crime is not only any such act or omission which is punishable by law but also such acts which hurt the moral sentiments of the society. Prof. Kenny, a famous jurist, too had defined crime. As per him, crime can be only denoted to such acts which are punishable and only remissible by the State, if the State feels so. However, this definition has gained little criticism. This definition has been criticized on the fact that criminal activities can only be remissible by the State, but some compoundable offences can be amicably sorted out within the private persons.

Nature of criminal activity

Certain principles determine the nature of criminal activity. Those principles are:

  1. Crime is either an act or omission of any act on the part of a human being, which is harmful to society at large. Criminal activity must be a public wrong.
  2. The actions taken in criminal activities are always in rem, that is, against the whole world. When any criminal activity is committed, action is taken against the accused by the concerned State or government.
  3. Criminal activities are always punishable by the law. Such acts are prevented by a threat or sanction of punishment administered by the State.
  4. A special legal procedure is followed after the criminal activity is discovered. Usually, in these cases, the accused is taken into custody following the law and investigation begins, trials take place, and eventually, the judgment is delivered.

Scope of criminal activity 

So far, we have got an idea of what can be denoted as criminal activity. However, let us look into the scope of such activities. Under the Indian law, the Code of Criminal Procedure classifies the offences into different categories. It classifies offences into cognizable and non-cognizable offences. 

  • Cognizable offences can be stated as any such offences where the police can arrest the accused without any warrant. In such offences, the police officer can start the investigation of the case without the permission of the Magistrate. It has been observed that such offences are usually grave and non-bailable. 
  • On the other hand, non-cognizable offences are those where police cannot arrest the accused without the arrest warrant from the Magistrate. In such offences, the police need to have prior permission from the Magistrate to start the investigation. Such offences are usually less serious and bailable.

Classification of crimes under the IPC is as follows:

  • Crime against the body – IPC recognizes crime against the body in the form of murder, kidnapping, abduction, hurt, causing death by negligence.
  • Crime against property – IPC recognizes robbery, theft, dacoity, preparation, and assembly to commit dacoity, burglary as crimes against property.
  • Crimes against public order – IPC recognizes riots, arson, etc.
  • Economic crimes – IPC recognizes criminal breach of trust, cheating, counterfeiting, etc.
  • Crimes against a woman – Rape, assault, dowry death, cruelty by husband and his relatives, etc.
  • IPC also recognizes crimes against children. For example, kidnapping for slavery, kidnapping from lawful guardianship, procuration for minor girls, etc.
  • All other crimes mentioned in IPC come under the scope of criminal activity.

Certain special and local Acts also determine criminal activities and give punishments. Some of them are the Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Act, 1985, Arms Act, 1959, the Public Gambling Act, 1867, Excise Act, 1958, Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, Indian Railways Act, 1989, Essential Commodities Act, 1955, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, etc.

Problems in the identification of criminal activities

At times, it becomes very difficult to identify what can be constituted as a criminal activity. Thus, to determine criminal activity, we can look into the fundamentals that are required for an activity to be denoted as criminal activity. The fundamental elements are:

Human beings

The term human being is not defined in the IPC, but IPC has defined ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘persons’, ‘public’, and ‘gender’. As per IPC, the term ‘gender’ denotes both male and female unless stated anything else expressly in any provision or statutes. In the case of Girdhar Gopal v. State (1952), the issue was that the term ‘he’ used in Section 354 of IPC denoted only the male or both male and female. The High Court of Madhya Pradesh had held that the term ‘he’ will denote both men and women. Thus, a man or a woman will be held guilty for outraging the modesty of a woman based on the circumstances of the case.

The IPC has also defined the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’. According to IPC, ‘man’ can be stated as any male of any age and ‘woman’ can be stated as any female of any age. IPC commenced in the year 1860. At that time, the concept of the third gender was not recognized by IPC. However, over the years, it has been observed that the third gender needs to be recognized under IPC and other laws. Due to their non-recognition, they were discriminated against from getting justice or rights and could not enjoy the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution. Thus, in the landmark case of National Legal Services Authority v. Union Of India (2012), the honourable Supreme Court had held that all those persons who, at the time of their birth, were neither male nor female will be denoted as the third gender and they will be recognized under the Indian law. This was mainly done to safeguard them and enable them to enjoy their fundamental rights, social, economic, political, and other legal rights. The ambit of the term ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is very wide, but it does not include anyone in the womb of a lady.

The IPC has also defined the term ‘person’. Under IPC, a ‘person’ can be both a natural person like any human being and any artificial person like any corporation or company, or association. The term ‘person’ also includes a body of persons or any idols which is often stated as a legal person. However, in criminal cases, the corporations are only held liable for any quasi-criminal offences like non-repair of bridges, nuisance, trespass, forgery, etc. Corporations can never be held liable for offences like murder, robbery, or everything which falls under the purview of offences against the State, and for any offence whose punishment has been prescribed as imprisonment or death. An unborn child in the womb of a mother is also considered a person under Section 11 of IPC.

Under IPC, the term ‘public’ is used for any class of public or community. IPC does not lay down the definition but states out what can come under the term ‘public’. This term cannot be interpreted widely. 

Mens rea

It is one of the most important essentials required to claim an act as a criminal activity. Criminal law keenly observes the behaviour or conduct of the person who had committed the crime. It is believed that the conduct of a person is very important to determine an accused is guilty or innocent. In criminal law, an activity to be denoted as criminal activity, the act must consist of some manifestation of physical behaviour; any sort of mental element present to execute the crime.

‘Mens rea’ means a kind of mental condition constituting an intention or knowledge to commit a crime. An act only becomes criminal, when it is done with a guilty mind. However, the guilty intent need not necessarily be to commit any act which is forbidden by law to do. It can be just a mere intention to do something wrong. Now, the question that arises is, what is an intention? Intention can generally be defined as a purpose or a desire to get a result out of certain circumstances. There have been certain tests to determine mens rea. The first is to test whether the act committed was voluntary or not. The second test is whether the accused had the result foreseen.

Often the concept of an intention and motive is seen to be confusing. It should be made clear that intention and motive are not the same things and they should be distinguished. The intention is the execution of the act to fulfil the desire. On the other hand, the motive is just a feeling of revenge against any other person. In criminal activity, the liability of intention is taken into account to a larger extent compared to motive. It is believed that intention forms the basis of criminal activity and has no motive. For example, if a man steals food for his starving child, the motive here is good but the intention here is stealing. Thus, the law recognizes the theft and not the motive. 

In the case of Om Prakash v. State of Uttarakhand, (2003), it was held that the motive of a crime is not necessary to determine conviction. In this case, the court turned down the plea of absence of motive for the commission of the crime where the guilt of the accused had been already proved. Under Indian law, the doctrine of mens rea has been used in two different ways. Firstly, in IPC, offences in themselves have been stated with words like ‘voluntarily’, ‘intentionally’, and ‘knowingly’, which thereby shows the usage of the doctrine. Secondly, the doctrine of mens rea had also been incorporated in Chapter IV of IPC where the general exceptions are stated.

Actus reus

‘Actus reus’ means an act or a deed committed by any person. Generally, it means the physical commission of a deed either by committing something which was prohibited by law to do or refusal of any act which was stated by law to do. It is the physical result of human conduct. In the case of Moti Singh v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1963), it was observed that two gunshots were fired at the victim. The victim, after two to three weeks, succumbed to injuries. However, to prove that the victim was murdered, it was necessary to prove that the victim died due to the gunshots fired at him. The mens rea and actus rea are interlinked to each other. There is no mens rea without actus reus. The presence of mere malice without the commission of any act would not amount to criminal activity. For example, if a man had in mind thought to kill a woman, but he had not done any such act, then it would not amount to a crime.


Injury has been defined by the IPC. The term injury has a wider ambit under IPC. It not only includes bodily harm but also includes harm to one’s mind, reputation, or property. An injury will be only determined as an element of an offence if it has been caused illegally. If the injury has not happened due to any illegal activity, it will not amount to any offence. The injury can be against one person, group of persons or society at large.


Any criminal activity does not affect just the victim or their family, it also affects the whole society. It creates lifelong trauma in society because society and crime are interrelated. They cannot be separated as the accused at some point in his/her life had been part of the same society and also where he/she commits such unlawful acts is also the society. Thus, it is very crucial to prevent such criminal activities. There have been various laws made to punish the offenders. As of 2021, it has been reported by Delhi, the capital of India, that the crime rates have dropped down to almost 15% from the previous year in Delhi. However, in some other states in India, the crime rate has risen to an alarming rate as compared to the previous year. Regarding the prevention of criminal activities, the main power lies with the state governments, therefore more strict and speedy actions should be taken to combat such activities. If any State feels that certain laws need to be amended which would help prevent such criminal activity, they should immediately convey it to the concerned authority.


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