New Delhi: A person cannot be expected to
act in a cowardly manner when faced with an imminent threat to
life and has got every right to kill the aggressor in self
defence, the Supreme Court has held.
Such a killing is permissible under the law and cannot be
equated with murder, a Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and
Asok Kumar Ganguly said.
"The law does not require a law-abiding citizen to behave
like a coward when confronted with an imminent unlawful
aggression. As repeatedly observed by this court there is
nothing more degrading to the human spirit than to run away in
face of danger.
"The right of private defence is thus designed to serve a
social purpose and deserves to be fostered within the
prescribed limits," the Bench said a judgement.
The apex court passed the judgement while acquitting a
convict, Darshan Singh, of the murder of his uncle Gurcharan
Singh on July 15, 1991 in Punjab`s Ludhiana district over a
Darshan Singh shot dead Gurcharan Singh after the latter
attacked the accused`s father Bakthawar Singh with a lethal
weapon on the head and then proceeded to attack him. In the
scuffle that ensued Darshan Singh shot dead Gurcharan Singh.
The sessions court had acquitted him on the ground that
Darshan Singh had exercised his right of self defence provided
under Sections 96-106 of the IPC.
However, on an appeal from the state, the acquittal was
reversed and the High Court sentenced the accused to life
imprisonment following which he appealed in the apex court.
Interpreting Section 96-106 of the IPC which justifies
the killing of an assailant, the apex court said, the
provision can be invoked where a person has a genuine
apprehension that his adversary is going to attack him and
reasonably believes that the attack will result in a grievous
"In that event, he can go to the extent of causing the
latter`s death in the exercise of the right of private defence
even though the latter may not have inflicted any blow or
injury on him.
"The question whether the apprehension was reasonable or
not is a question of fact depending upon the facts and
circumstances of each case and no straitjacket formula can
be prescribed in this regard.
"The weapon used, the manner and nature of assault and
other surrounding circumstances should be taken into account
while evaluating whether the apprehension was justified or
not," the Bench held.
According to the apex court, while enacting sections 96
to 106 of the Indian Penal Code, "the Legislature clearly
intended to arouse and encourage the manly spirit of self
defence amongst the citizens, when faced with grave danger".
The apex court said the right to protect one`s own person
and property against the unlawful aggressions of others is a
right inherent in man.
"The duty of protecting the person and property of others
is a duty which man owes to society of which he is a member
and the preservation of which is both his interest and duty.
It is, indeed, a duty which flows from human sympathy, the
However, the Bench cautioned that such protection must
not be extended beyond the necessities of the case, otherwise
it will encourage a spirit or lawlessness and disorder. The
right, therefore, has been restricted to offences against the
human body and those relating to aggression on property, it
"A mere reasonable apprehension is enough to put the
right of self defence into operation, but it is also settled
position of law that a right of self defence is only right to
defend oneself and not to retaliate. It is not a right to take
"The citizens, as a general rule, are neither expected to
run away for safety when faced with grave and imminent danger
to their person or property as a result of unlawful
aggression," the Bench said, while directing Darshan Singh`s