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This article is written by Vedant Saxena, from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab. In this article, the author delves into the horrific disorder of psychopathy, and by analyzing various statutes and case laws, attempts at explaining why punishment is not a viable solution.


Netflix’s latest millennial romantic thriller “You” is a fascinating yet horrific tale of a cold-blooded serial killer, a true psychopath. The plot is centred around the obsession of one Joe Goldberg with his girlfriend, which heightens to such an extent that he mercilessly kills several people, under the garb of ‘love’. A psychopath is a person who is known to commit barbaric crimes, without possessing the ability to feel any remorse or guilt for his victims. He suffers from a personality disorder that renders him incapable of feeling basic human emotion. Although a psychopath is fully aware of his act, the realisation of its ghastliness does not stoop in. 

Psychopaths know the difference between right and wrong, but emotionally lack the feeling of what is right and wrong. For them, a statute is merely a set of rules and regulations which the people are forced to follow. Contemporary law is not a gunman law. Rather, it is inherently a reflection of basic moral conduct. 

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Psychopaths lack an important factor that motivates individuals to behave morally, i.e., emotional capacity. Psychological and neuroscientific studies are providing increasing empirical evidence demonstrating the importance of emotion in moral judgment and behaviour, and characterizing the deficits observed in psychopathy. 

In the UK and USA, laws have already been framed for psychopaths where the laws not only identify them but also provide measures to deal with them. However, in India, psychopathy has mostly been dealt with in the form of punishment, owing to the lack of recognizing emotion as an essence for moral judgement and behaviour. Even the Mental Health Care Act, 2017, which was passed to protect the rights of mental people, does not take into account people with less severe illnesses and personality disorders. 

The reason why punishment is not a viable option

Punishments are usually awarded to induce fear in the minds of the victim, thereby restraining him from committing such acts henceforth. However, a grey area arises when the victim himself is unconcerned about the severity of the punishment. Psychopaths are generally fearless and do not worry about the consequences of their acts. They are unable to comprehend the nature of the crime committed by them, as the crime is committed as a result of mental illness and not because of any guilty mind. An inhumane act of violence and torture becomes something normal to them, something that they consider to be morally correct. 

For instance, in Dandupalya Krishna vs State Of Karnataka, the accused had said: “I liked to hear the last sounds of life draining away. It is exciting to hear the gurgling sound that emerges from the throat after I slit it”.  

In Surendra Koli vs State Of U.P. and Ors (Nithari case), the accused, who had mercilessly killed and eaten the flesh of many children, said: “I still have an urge to kill.”

Levelling up the punishment would not solve the problem of psychopathy, for psychopaths are devoid of human emotion and lack the fear of punishment. In a more recent case, a court in Rajasthan’s Kota awarded death penalty to a psychopathic killer, who committed heinous acts with women’s bodies after fulfilling his sexual desires. “Accused has committed the murder of three more women in the past and also escaped jail while serving life imprisonment in murder case and later committed this heinous murder case so there is no possibility of his improvement”, said POCSO Court judge, Kailash Chand Mishra, in his order. It is clear from such instances that psychopaths are seldom afraid of punishment. While in rare cases, death penalty could be awarded to untreatable entities, punishment alone is incapable of eliminating psychopathy.

Legal provisions in different countries


  • English law seems to have aligned itself in consonance with the fact that psychopathic wrongdoings essentially stem from an ill mind. And for this very reason, diverting the accused to rehabilitation centres has been adopted as the more logical solution, than punishment. 
  • After the Second World War, there were a large number of therapeutic centres set up to treat psychopaths. The oldest of them is the Henderson Hospital, which has to some degree succeeded in treating patients with such mental disorders, some of which would be considered as utterly serious. 
  • HMP Grendon Underwood, established in 1962 is known to deal with detainees who might be viewed as having moderate to extreme identity disorders. High-security healing facilities such as Ashworth, Rampton and Broadmoor, have some arrangement particularly for individuals with serious identity disorders, who represent a high risk. 


  • Various laws dealing with psychopaths have been established across American states over the years. For instance, the ‘Sentencing Reform Act’ was passed in 1984, keeping in mind the personality disorder of sexual psychopaths. 
  • California had also established a psychopathic offender law in 1939.  
  • In 1995, California and numerous other states in the US passed special statutes for psychopaths. 
  • Most of these statutes empower the state to hold custody of psychopaths, particularly ones having indulged in barbaric sexual crimes until they are fully cured of their illness.


  • Indian law contains a few provisions dealing with mental illness. Section 84 of the IPC declares ‘unsoundness of mind’ as a defence, whereas Section 328 of the Cr.P.C. deals with instances when the person against whom the inquiry is being held is of unsound mind and consequently incapable of making his defence. However, these provisions are insufficient in dealing with partial delusion, irresistible impulse or the impulsive behaviour of the psychopath. People need to be educated and made aware that psychopaths essentially do suffer from a mental disorder, and thus punishment is not a viable option. 
  • Although insanity is a defence, the percentage of accused sent to rehabilitation centres and mental hospitals is extremely low. Moreover, once sent to mental illness, the patients are more often than not neglected and treated pitifully. 
  • In India, only the people suffering from a high degree of mental illness are brought into the frame. One such example is the recent Mental Healthcare Act. Psychopathy does not usually stem from an unambiguous anomaly in the brain.

The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017

This Act defines mental illness as “a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation, or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognize reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs.” Since psychopathy is indeed a condition wherein the offender lacks basic human emotion, it could be considered a disorder impairing the ability to meet the ordinary demands of life. Moreover, recent research has also shown that emotion is essentially a powerful motivating tool to behave morally. However, this Act does not take into account victims of less severe disorders. It applies only to those who have a “substantial” mental impairment. Therefore, it could be concluded India is in dire need of a law specifically dealing with psychopathic offenders, and recognising emotion as an essence of moral judgement and behaviour. 

How the Indian judiciary has dealt with psychopaths over the years

Nithari rape case

The Nithari rape case, one of the most gruesome instances of human barbarism, was more than a formidable case of psychopathy. It involved one Surinder Koli abduct, rape and kill a woman. But that wasn’t just it. They mutilated the corpse of the victim as well. She was beheaded and the head along with her garments was thrown in the drain behind Pandher’s residence. According to reports, the court observed that the case falls under the “rarest of the rare” category. However, in none of the reports was any mention of psychopathy as Koli’s disease, which came as an utter surprise to many. Surinder Koli was convicted and sentenced to death by a CBI court. However, in January 2015, six years after their conviction in the case, the Allahabad High Court commuted their sentence to life following an inordinate delay in deciding his mercy petition.

This case should certainly have compelled the Indian legal system to incorporate the element of psychopathy in the justice delivery system. 

Raman Raghav case

One of the most well-known cases of psychopathy in India, this case involved a psychopathic killer that roamed the streets of Mumbai in the 1960s. Raman Raghav was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia after his arrest. His sentence was reduced to life imprisonment because he was found to be incurably mentally ill.

Dandupalya Krishna case

This was another prominent case of the criminal being a psychopath, an entity void of emotion. Dandupalya Krishna was the leader of the dreaded Dandupalya gang which operated across Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh from 1995 to 1999. They killed at least 42 people in an inhumane manner, with crowbars and other weapons. All members of the gang were awarded capital punishment in 1999, along with a fine of Rs. 30,000 each.

Darbara Singh case

This case was centred around a paedophilic serial killer Darabara Singh, who left a trail of victims from Kapurthala to Jalandhar since he was first arrested in 1996. By 2004, he had claimed up to 25 victims, most of whom were children. His psychopathic personality is best described in the words of District Police Chief Gurpreet Singh Bhullar: “We were able to find the scattered skeletal remains of 17 children. Of the others, Darbara himself could not recall the site of crime. He expressed no remorse for the heinous crimes he had committed. His interrogation revealed that he nursed a grudge against migrant labourers for it was the daughter of one of them who had got him arrested the first time.” On account of these acts, Darbara Singh was awarded capital punishment by a fast track court.

Joshi – Abhyanker murder case

This case involved 4 commercial art students of the Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya, Pune, India who committed 10 murders between January 1976 and March 1977. Additionally, they frequently robbed 13 and indulged in drinking. On 27 Nov. 1983, they were hanged to death.

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This case involved an Indian serial killer, who along with his gang, was found guilty of six murders, committed over two years in 1988–1989.

A heightened focus on punishment 

These cases highlight a significant flaw in the Indian legal system. In no case has the Indian judiciary taken into consideration the element of psychopathy. The clear aim was to ensure a proportionate correlation between the severity of the punishment and the heinousness of the crime. Psychopathy must not be merely associated with the judicial system. 

For instance, to determine the extent to which the accused was mentally ill while committing the crime, a doctor will be a more viable option than a judge. It is also important that judges possess some knowledge of psychiatric treatment and the willingness to accept this fact while giving a sensible and humane decision. If the patient, who has committed heinous crimes, is declared to be incurably ill, he may be awarded the death penalty giving due consideration to other factors. However, awarding punishment to improve the mindset of the psychopath and others alike is more or less useless.


No person is born a psychopath. No 2 people possess the same psyche. While some may be reared in a family with rich and nice morals and a sound environment, others might be reared in strained environments. Strained environments cause children to develop a lack of empathy, lack of guilt and possess shallow emotions, defined as callous-unemotional traits. 

Such children are at increased risk of developing psychopathy in adulthood. These children are more likely to display anti-social behaviour, such as bullying and aggression. They are less likely to respond to socially rewarding stimuli such as happy faces and are also less likely to recognise a fearful expression. Such individuals could be served justice only through therapy, and not by intensifying the punishment, because first, a psychopath is fearless of punishment, and secondly, a patient must always be treated than punished. Therefore, it is imperative that a clear understanding be inculcated in our system for psychopathy, for it, unfortunately, is still an un-emphasized area in our legal system.   


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