Necrophilia, the attraction to or engagement in sexual acts with deceased human bodies, remains a deeply disturbing and ethically contentious topic throughout human history. Despite its unsettling nature, various religious doctrines stress the importance of revering the deceased, recognizing their spiritual journey beyond physical life. In Hinduism, the body is seen as more than mere flesh, symbolizing the soul’s transition to the eternal “atman,” a connection to cosmic divinity. Christianity underscores the resurrection of the body, underscoring the sanctity of the deceased and the divine promise of life after death. Islam unequivocally condemns necrophilia as sacrilege and a violation of religious tenets. The Karnataka High Court’s recent ruling in the case of Rangaraju @ Vajapeyi V/S State of Karnataka on 30th May 2023 sparked controversy by acquitting the defendant of raping a deceased victim, citing the absence of specific legal provisions in the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Many argue that legal measures aimed at safeguarding human dignity and rights should encompass protection for the deceased as well. Such an inclusive approach would align the law with its moral principles, fostering a more compassionate and just legal system.

Legality of Necrophilia in India

Despite the legal framework in India acknowledging the right to dignity after death, supported by various legal precedents, the disturbing and repulsive act of necrophilia remains unaddressed. The Indian Penal Code (referred to as “the IPC”) and related statutes do not explicitly define necrophilia as a separate offense. Existing laws concerning the deceased fail to adequately cover significant issues, leaving necrophilia in a legal grey area. Section 297 of the IPC, which criminalizes the desecration or trespassing of graves or burial places, is the closest provision that could encompass Necrophiliac acts. However, this section primarily aims to protect burial grounds and the sanctity of resting places, rather than specifically targeting necrophilia or related sadistic acts against corpses. One limitation is that individuals, such as morgue attendants or crematorium workers, who are present in an official capacity and have not trespassed, would not be liable even if they engage in Necrophiliac acts. Another criticism is the inadequate punishment prescribed by this provision, with a maximum imprisonment of only one year, which is deemed insufficient for such egregious offenses.

Section 377 of the IPC lays down the law governing ‘unnatural intercourse’. It is undeniable that committing an act of intercourse with a corpse goes against the order of nature, but on strictly interpreting this section, a recourse to necrophilia is yet to be found. The words ‘man’ and ‘woman’ used in this section have been defined with respect to their quantifiable biological component, their age. Since this factor is only attributed to living beings, this provision cannot attract the crime of defiling the dead. Applying the same reasoning, the interpretations of the notable provisions of sections 375 and 376, or the punishment for rape, would be restricted to living women, barring these corpses from legal recourse. 

Judicial Approach

But due to the lack of adequate constitutional safeguards against necrophilia has been highlighted by a recent Karnataka High Court judgement, causing a furor among citizens. In the case of Rangaraju v. State of Karnataka (hereinafter “Rangaraju”)a 21-year-old woman was returning home after her class when she was dragged to a bush where the accused sliced her throat. It was further proved that the accused then proceeded to rape her corpse. On the evidence presented, the Sessions Judge convicted the accused for the murder and rape of the victim. The case which went on appeal, was heard by a Division Bench which upheld the conviction of the accused on the charge of murder, but discerned flaws in the single Judge’s conviction for rape, which led to the acquittal of the accused. The bench discussed whether the raping of a corpse would attract the provisions of section 376 and, ultimately, answered in the negative. The bench discussed provisions that brushed upon necrophilia but observed that none of these provisions had explicitly addressed the offense of necrophilia and thus, could not be applied.

The court also drew parallels to various other countries that have already provided for this offense in their legislations. The court, inter alia, considered provisions of the Sexual Offences Act of the UK which per se includes necrophilia and makes the penetration of a corpse an offense, whether done knowingly or recklessly. Further, provisions of the Criminal Code of Canada were also discussed. Albeit similar to the provisions of Section 297 of the IPC, the provision holds a maximum imprisonment of five years, thus enforcing better deterrence of the crime. The bench also called for new standards to prevent the vile act of necrophilia. This included the installation of CCTV cameras across morgues and private hospitals in the state and increasing the efficiency and security in producing clinical logs and storing information. The recommendation also included the institution of a periodical cleaning system and sensitization of staff so that the dignity of the dead is maintained.


Though the approach taken by the Bench can be likened to two legal doctrines. Firstly, it resembles the principle that protects individuals from arrest for acts that are not explicitly prohibited by law. Secondly, it reflects the rule of lenity, a strict method of interpreting statutes where ambiguities are resolved in favor of the defendant rather than the government. In line with this latter doctrine, the court found the accused not guilty of necrophilia, placing the responsibility on the State to create new provisions addressing this crime. The Bench identified gaps in the law and noted that a deceased body is not considered a ‘person’ under the Indian Penal Code, thus excluding the immoral act from falling under section 375, which deals with rape. Recognizing the inadequacy of existing provisions in deterring such crimes, the Bench emphasized the need for reforms to uphold the dignity of the deceased. It recommended amending Section 377 of the IPC to include the violation of a corpse as a form of necrophilia or sadism. 

The glaring gap in the legislative system, highlighted by this ambiguity, has garnered widespread attention and is pressuring the State to address this critical flaw. The recommendations put forth by the court in the Rangarajan case should be implemented nationwide as a proactive measure against necrophilia. Either an amendment to Section 377 or Section 375 should be made to encompass the abuse of the deceased, or a new provision within the Indian Penal Code specifically criminalizing necrophilia should be established. Moreover, the deficiencies in Section 297 must be rectified to include any individual who violates a corpse, accompanied by a substantial increase in the length of imprisonment. Legislative reforms can draw inspiration from the criminalization of necrophilia in other countries like the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. As instances of necrophilia surface across the nation, the State must evolve and enact laws against necrophilia that align with the moral standards upheld by society.

By- Esha Gandhi

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