Overview: Legal state of cannibalism In India

June 6, 2021, 7:28 p.m.   singhsakshi142211  
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[Profile Of Author -Sanjana Ratkal is pursuing her second year of BA.LLB from VIT Chennai school of



Cannibalism, also called anthropophagy, eating of human flesh by humans. The term is derived from the Spanish name (Caríbales or Caníbales) for the Carib, a West Indies tribe well known for its practice of cannibalism.

Cannibalism is the consumption of another human's body matter, whether consensual or not.

A widespread custom going back into early human history, cannibalism has been found among peoples on most continents.

There is no one satisfactory and all-inclusive explanation for cannibalism. Different peoples have practiced it for different reasons, and a group may practice cannibalism in one context and view it with horror in another. In any case, the spread of modernization usually results in the prohibition of such practices. 

It is noted that cannibalism is considered anti-social and highly impulsive and abnormal behavior.  Today, these cases are extremely rare and are generally associated with severe mental illness.


India like many other countries does not have a specific law banning cannibalism as such. Most of the popularly reported cases of cannibalism are coupled with charges of murder leading to life imprisonment.

The only other provision which may be employed in Section 297 of the Indian Penal Code penalizes trespass of a place of burial but does not specifically refer to cannibalism. So, if a person gets human flesh outside a place of burial, this provision may not apply at all. 

Case laws

While cannibalism in itself is not a crime, furthermore, being a very rare occurrence there are few cases with the help of which one can ascertain the position with regards to cannibalism in India.

The most prominent of these being the Nithari case.

Nithari case

On December 29, 2006, skeletal remains of eight children, possibly a few of women too, were discovered from the drain of a house in Nithari village of Noida’s Sector 31.

More skeletons were discovered the next day- the remains of women and a few more children. However, what was revealing for the everyday normalization of brutality in the country wasn’t the number of people meeting their end but the fact that they could end up in a kitchen cauldron and be flushed out of drains.

As the chilling details kept tumbling out with the arrest and narco-analysis of house owner Moninder Singh Pander and his domestic help Surinder Koli, cannibalism and necrophiliac bestiality seemed the most plausible theory. 

In terms of the investigation, the police did not have much, but they did manage to get a disturbingly visual confession by the accused Surinder Koli in the presence of a magistrate.

The man who used to work as a servant in a large house in Nithari, near Delhi, says in his confession that his master used to bring prostitutes home and that as he watched them come and go, and cooked meals for them, he was taken over by a powerful desire for sex and for cutting up human bodies. The man in his forties had no history of crime before he committed, in his own admission, a series of murders in 2005 and 2006.

He says that he lured his victims, all children except one, into the house, and in every case he knocked the victim unconscious, attempted sex that was unsuccessful every time in his hazy memory, strangulated the victim, dismembered them, and disposed of them usually in the drains. 

When Koli is asked at various points why he is confessing, he says: “Because I want to help the law.” “I am a very poor person. I do not have the resources to feed my family or fight this case.” “I want to live with the truth.” “By confessing, I will relieve the burden on my mind.” “I sincerely want to repent and undergo penance for my wrong deeds.” “I am speaking the truth because you are the court and the judge, and you are everything for me. If I walk on the road of truth, I may get some relief.

Contrasting facts such as Koli’s victims being strangers whom he killed shortly within meeting them and yet managing to recognize them several months later during case investigations among many other facts does raise enough suspicion towards the real truth.

A committee commissioned by the Ministry of Women and Child Development has found the police version of why and how Koli committed the crimes ambiguous and unconvincing. The committee wonders how a person can dispose of body parts in the drains in a metropolitan area so easily, so many times, and without being noticed.

the case was registered against Kohli under various sections of the IPC, including rape, murder, kidnapping, and criminal conspiracy.

However, the CBI had a tough time charging Pandher and Kohli with necrophilia, as there were no well-defined laws in the country dealing with the crime. Years later, we're no better.

In simple words, there have been countless speculations about this case. In fact, if it even was cannibalism isn’t known clearly, but it was a strong contention and thus remains associated with this case.

Aghori tribes

The Aghori are a small group of ascetic Shaiva sadhus. They engage in post-mortem rituals. They often dwell in charnel grounds, smear cremation ashes on their bodies, and use bones from human corpses for crafting kapalas and jewelry.

Aghoris live among India's cremation sites - where Lord Shiva and goddess Kali Ma are said to dwell - and feed on what others throw away.

Bodies are often cremated and then scattered into the sacred Ganges river, but some bodies are disposed of without cremation.

The Aghori are said to collect these remains and use them for their spiritual enlightenment, wearing the corpses, consuming them, or building alters from them.

The Aghori believe that by immersing themselves in practices society deems taboo or disturbing, they're on course to achieving enlightenment.

As well as feasting on human flesh, Aghoris also drink from human skulls and chew the heads off live animals.

Oftentimes tribal communities have cultures and norms that deter from that of the general communities. Being home to differences, cultures, and rituals India is no stranger to cannibal tribes.

The theory of cultural relativism causes a particular culture to follow a certain practice i.e. being specific Cannibalism has been said to test the bounds of cultural relativism because it challenges anthropologists to define what is or is not beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior.

Legal position

In cases of serial killers or sexually motivated cannibals, the charge is always placed on murder- owing to a lack of any specific law against cannibalism, necrophilia, or any activity desecrating a dead body- if we are to see legal precedents.

In several countries, cannibals could also face charges of outraging public decency or preventing a lawful burial if they are caught engaging in the activity publicly.

“297. Trespassing on burial places, etc.—Whoever, intending to wound the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person or with the knowledge that the feelings of any person are likely to be wounded, or that the religion of any person is likely to be insulted thereby, commits any trespass in any place of worship or on any place of the sepulcher, or any place set apart for the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead, or offers any indignity to any human corpse, or causes disturbance to any persons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”

“300. Murder—Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done to cause death, or

⦁ If it is done to cause such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or—

⦁ If it is done to cause bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or

⦁ If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death, or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.”

“302. Punishment for murder—Whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or 1 [imprisonment for life] and shall also be liable to fine.”

Many cases, including the 2006 Nithari murders, involve the accused luring and killing the victim first and then committing the crime. This would completely rule out Section 297 that made trespassing on a burial place a crime.


Since 2015 amidst a rising number of cases of necrophilia along with a connection with the Nithari case, there has risen the need for India to come up with laws to deal with violation of the dead, be it about necrophilia or exhuming of corpses, or even desecrating the body for the flesh of the dead body.

There has been no criminalization of cannibalism yet, be it in India or the world. The debate to criminalize the same is an ongoing one. With regards to the Aghori tribe, they are not punished, and considering punishing them might invite a lot of criticism.

The question to consider is where to draw the line between human morality and the leeway to provide respect to cultures and religions that are different from the norm and don’t necessarily fit into the general population’s model.

Disclaimer- This article is an original submission of the Author. Niti Manthan does not hold any liability arising out of this article. Kindly refer to our Terms of use or write to us in case of any concerns.


Cannibalism, human behaviour, https://www.britannica.com/topic/cannibalism-human-behaviour




Section 297 of the Indian Penal Code

Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code

Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code


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