History has witnessed that early forms of punishments of most of the countries of the world were barbaric and cruel. By the end of the 18th century, human rights started emerging and it influenced the penal systems across the world. Various human rights commissions, organizations were made and conventions were passed to stop barbaric and ruthless penal punishments given to the offenders of the law.


The common modes of penal punishments practiced in different parts of the world are as follows-

  • FLOGGING– Flogging is a mode of punishment in which an offender is badly beaten with a whip or a stick. Thus flogging is also known as whipping. In earlier times flogging was the most commonly used method of punishment. In India, flogging was recognized under the Whipping Act, 1864 which was repealed and replaced by an identical act in 1909 that was abolished in 1955. The English penal system abolished whipping earlier in comparison to other penal systems of the world. In the U.S.A whipping was recognized in the 1950s and was done only for wife-beating. In India, whipping was common practice during the period of Mughals and Marathas. Flogging is still practiced in middle-east countries as a mode of punishment.

As human rights developed flogging was highly criticized to be an inhuman and cruel mode of punishment. Critics asserted that flogging was ineffective as it transformed an offender into an anti-social, enemy, or a coward. Thus, flogging results in making an offender a rougher kind of criminal, braver desperado, or a broken-down man.

  • MUTILATION– In mutilation, a part or parts of the body of the offender were chopped off so that he is not able to repeat the offence. For example, if an offender commits theft then his hands were mutilated and in the case of sexual crimes, the private parts of the offender were chopped off. Its main object was establishing a sense of deterrence and retribution in the offender’s mind. Dismembering the offending part of the body of the offender was the rule followed in mutilation.

Mutilation was practiced in England, Denmark, and other European countries. This mode of punishment was prevalent in ancient India during the Hindu period.

Mutilation because of its barbaric nature was highly criticized and completely rejected in the modern era. The critics of mutilation asserted that it infused cruelty among the people.

  • BRANDING– the Roman penal system used to brand criminals with a certain mark on their forehead to identify them to have committed some crime and thereby subject them to public ridicule. This was also practiced in England till it was abolished in 1829. American penal system also practiced branding for punishing burglars by branding the letter ‘T’ on their head and the repeaters of the offence were branded letter ‘R’ on their forehead. In India branding was practiced in the Mughal period. However, with the development of human rights, it was completely abolished.
  • STONNING– The offender was made to stand in a small trench dug in the ground and people surround him and pelt stones on him from above until he dies. Stoning the criminals to death was prevalent in the medieval period. However, it is still practiced in some Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia. The offenders who committed sexual offences were punished by stoning to death.

Critics stated that stoning is a barbaric form of punishment. But it was observed that sex crimes against women reduced drastically because of its deterrent effect in Arabian countries.

  • PILLORY– In the pillory, the offender’s head and hands were locked in an iron frame in a public place and he was either whipped, branded, or stoned in case of a serious offence. It had a strong deterring effect on the criminal.

During the Mughal rule, the pillory was practiced differently in India. Here, the hardened criminals were nailed in walls and were either stoned or shot to death. Hanging the offender in a public place was also a form of pillory punishment followed all over the world.

The pillory was abolished as it was criticized as a cruel, brutal, and barbaric mode of punishment that has no place in the modern era.

  • BANISHMENT– It signifies the centuries-old practice of transporting or sending offenders to far-off places to punish them and stop them from committing crimes by eliminating them from society.

In England, war prisoners were transported to Austro-African colonies. In France, French criminals were transported to French colonies in Guiana. This French system of deportation was abolished after the Second World War with the establishment of a free French government. Russian countries transported their criminals to Siberian penal camps which were so bad conditions that they were called the House of the Dead. In India, banishment was practiced during British rule. This practice was called Kalapani in India where dangerous criminals were dispatched to the remote island of Andaman and Nicobar. It had a bad psychological effect on the offender and he was also outcasted as a religious practice followed in India. This was abolished in 1955.

  • FINES– In cases of crimes that were not of serious nature fines were imposed on the offender as a common mode of punishment. Fines not being cruel or barbaric is still being practiced in penal systems all over the world. The imposition of penalty is done mostly in minor offences like a breach of traffic rules, property crimes like theft, extortion, etc.

In India, Section 421 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 provides for the recovery of fines from the offenders. The Code says that when a fine is imposed by the Court on the offender it is paid to the victim for any loss or injury suffered by him because of the crime committed by the offender. While awarding a fine the court considers the gravity of the offence, the loss or injury suffered, and the financial capacity of the offender.

  • IMPRISONMENT– Imprisoning an offender for committing any crime is also the most used mode of punishing the offender. However, we must note that imprisonment damages the family ties of the offender as he loses contact with his family and makes him anti-social. The offender after getting released from prison has to bear the social stigma. The members of the family of the imprisoned also suffer humiliation, misery, emotional trauma, financial crisis, etc.

Today in the prison system radical changes have taken place all over the world to reform the offender. In India, parole and furlough are used as a part of penal institutions where the prisoner is released after undergoing a specified period of imprisonment so that his family relations are not adversely affected.

Imprisonment as a mode of penal punishment is followed through-out the world. Imprisonment is reformative and preventive as it reforms the criminal and also protects the society from anti-social elements.

  • SOLITARY CONFINEMENT- Segregating convicts into isolated cells signifies solitary confinement. This resulted in disastrous health consequences like the convicts dying, becoming insane or more furious, or more dangerous to society.

In India, Section 73 and 74 of the Indian Penal Code, (I.P.C.) 1860 contains a provision for solitary confinement. As we know that man by nature is a social being and he cannot live in complete isolation from his fellowmen for a long time. Keeping this in mind these sections provide that an offender must be kept in solitary confinement for any portion or portions of his term of imprisonment. Solitary confinement is to be imposed in intervals and not for the whole term of imprisonment.

  • IMPRISONMENT FOR LIFE- This is also a common mode of penal punishment given to a criminal that is practiced in all penal systems of the world. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1983 incorporated imprisonment for life of either description, simple or rigorous. Section 57 of I.P.C. states that imprisonment for life shall be reckoned as imprisonment for 20 years. The Government authorities under section 55 of I.P.C. or section 433 (b) of the Code of Criminal Procedure can commute the sentence of imprisonment to not exceeding a term of 14 years thereby setting the life convicts free after completing the maximum sentence of 14 years. However, in reality, the sentence continues to be the sentence of life imprisonment and does not end after 14 years of imprisonment.
  • CAPITAL PUNISHMENT- Capital Punishment signifies the death penalty. This is practiced all over the world in case of very serious crimes. There are many human rights organizations and activists who are fighting against giving death punishment to any criminal. This has made this form of punishment a debatable issue. The Courts have been trying to solve cases dealing with this controversial issue with the help of a series of judicial pronouncements containing elaborate discussion and circumstantial witnesses and evidence.

In India offences mentioned in the sections of the Indian Penal Code that are punishable with the death penalty are as follows-

Being a party in a criminal conspiracy to do a capital offence under Section 120B

Waging war against the Government under Section 121

Murder under Section 302

Abetment of mutiny under Section 132

Providing or fabricating false evidence to ensure a conviction of a capital offence under Section 194

Abetment of suicide committed by a child or intoxicated person or an insane person under Section 305

Attempt to murder by a life convict under Section 307

Kidnapping or abducting to murder under Section 364-A

Rape if it inflicts injuries resulting in victim’s death or incapacitation or is a repeat offender under Section 376-A

Dacoity with murder under Section 396.


From the above discussion, we can conclude that various modes or forms of penal punishments have existed in the history of humankind. With the emergence of human rights, most of the penal punishments that were cruel were abolished. In today’s times, most of the countries have common modes of punishments given by their penal systems trying to protect the society from the criminals and reforming them at the same time.

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