When Ghosts Haunted the Courtroom: Analyzing Indian Case Laws Where the Defence of Demonic Hauntings was Pleaded

Defence of Demonic Possession / Hauntings

The defence of ghosts, spirits, and demonic possession may seem absurd and outrageous at first glance. However, Indian courts have dealt with several criminal cases where the accused pleaded legal insanity and lack of mens rea due to purported haunting by supernatural entities. While such a defence appears ludicrous to the rational mind, the Indian Penal Code recognizes legal insanity due to unsoundness of mind as a valid defence under Section 84.

This provision states that nothing is an offence that is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, is by reason of unsoundness of mind, incapable of knowing the nature of the act or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law [1]. The term “unsoundness of mind” is not defined, but judicial interpretations have established when it can be invoked as a defence. The burden of proving unsoundness of mind lies on the accused under Section 105 of the Indian Evidence Act [2].

This blog analyzes four Indian cases where the defence of ghosts and spirits being responsible for the crime was taken. It examines the facts of each case, the issues and questions before the court, and the rationale behind the judicial decisions to accept or reject such an unusual defence. The analysis reveals how the courts sought to balance between upholding legal principles and doing substantive justice based on the evidence and circumstances of each case.

Mr. Mohammed Furkhan Mohammed vs The State of Maharashtra

In this 2003 Bombay High Court case [3], the accused Mohammed Furkhan was charged with rape of an 18-year old mentally disabled girl. He claimed to be an occult practitioner and alleged that he had sexual intercourse with the victim while trying to exorcise a ghost from her body.

The defence pleaded legal insanity and lack of mens rea under Section 84 IPC, arguing that the accused was possessed by a ghost and was of unsound mind. The court had to examine whether such a plea can be entertained when the accused claims ghost possession and commits a crime in an exorcism ritual.

The issue was whether the accused lacked the necessary mental capacity and mens rea or intention to commit rape due to unsoundness of mind. The court rejected the defence, holding there was no proof of unsoundness of mind or lack of criminal intent. It ruled that the accused took advantage of the mentally disabled victim under the guise of an exorcism ritual and the defence of ghost possession cannot exonerate him from stringent penal consequences.

State of Karnataka vs. Hemanth Kumar

This 2012 Karnataka High Court case [4] involved a man Hemanth Kumar whose wife had committed suicide. The defence argued that Kumar’s deceased wife was under the delusion of being possessed by a ghost. Kumar had taken her to temples and rituals to cure her mental condition.

The court had to examine whether the woman’s alleged ghost possession was enough to prove the unsoundness of mind of the accused husband. The issue was whether a superstitious belief in ghosts and spirits can by itself prove legal insanity. The court rejected the defence due to lack of convincing evidence showing the unsoundness of Kumar’s mind.

Mere superstitious notions are not enough to absolve an accused of culpability. The defence has to conclusively establish lack of mental capacity and inability to understand the wrongfulness of the act. The court upheld the principle that legal insanity is not established by mere eccentric beliefs and behaviour.

Sanjay Nagorao Pote vs State of Maharashtra

This 2018 Bombay High Court case [5] involved peculiar facts. Sanjay Nagorao Pote killed a man named Vitthal, claiming that a god had ordered him to remove a ghost from the victim’s body. He pleaded lack of mens rea due to unsoundness of mind under Section 84 IPC.

The court had to examine what is required to prove the defence of unsoundness of mind. The issue was whether superstitious beliefs can by themselves prove lack of criminal intent and moral blameworthiness.

The court analyzed the evidence about the accused’s conduct before, during and after the crime. It held that this demonstrated abnormal behaviour indicative of mental instability. The defence was accepted, with the court citing lack of motive, preparation or plan for the murder as corroborating the accused’s inability to comprehend the nature of his actions.

The acquittal highlights that the defence of insanity due to ghost beliefs can potentially succeed if there is convincing evidence of mental incapacity negating mens rea.

State of Orissa vs. Ram Bahadur Thapa

This 1959 Orissa High Court case [6] involved a Nepali man Ram Bahadur Thapa who attacked and killed certain women, believing them to be ghosts. He claimed protection under Section 79 IPC which exempts acts caused by mistake of fact in good faith.

The issue was whether mistake of fact can apply when the mistake stems from a superstitious belief in ghosts. The court examined what constitutes good faith and due care in such cases. It held that the accused was operating under a genuine mistaken belief that he was attacking ghosts and not human beings.

Given his background, mental capacity and the circumstances, this mistake was deemed reasonable. The defence of mistake of fact in attacking ghosts was accepted, resulting in acquittal. The verdict demonstrates that superstitious beliefs may provide exoneration in exceptional situations where the accused genuinely and reasonably mistook his victims for ghosts, acting in good faith without due care.

Analysis and Conclusion

These cases reveal how Indian courts have grappled with the issue of unsoundness of mind and mistake of fact defences based on religious or superstitious beliefs. The judgements demonstrate that there are no absolute rules for determining the validity of a “ghost defence”.

The facts and evidence of each case guide the legal reasoning on whether the accused had genuinely lost touch with reality and lacked awareness of the wrongfulness of his actions. Mere eccentricity or superstitious notions are not enough. The defence has to convince the court that the supernatural belief was reasonable from the accused’s subjective perspective and he was incapable of knowing the true nature of the act.

If the facts show lack of motive, prior enmity, planning, or other circumstances negating criminal intent, the ghost defence has greater chances of success. Ultimately, the courts aim to strike a balance between upholding legal principles and delivering substantial justice based on the totality of circumstances. The ghost may haunt the courtroom, but the judge separates the spectral from the real in the spirit of justice.


[1] Section 84, Indian Penal Code, 1860

[2] Section 105, Indian Evidence Act, 1872

[3] Mr. Mohammed Furkhan Mohammed vs The State of Maharashtra, 2004 (2) MhLj 800

[4] State of Karnataka vs. Hemanth Kumar @ Manjunath, Crl. A.No.982/2007 (A)

[5] Sanjay Nagorao Pote vs State of Maharashtra, CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 148 OF 2016

[6] State Of Orissa vs Ram Bahadur Thapa, AIR 1960 Ori 161

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