Case Analysis: State of Orissa v Ram Bahadur Thapa (1959) | The Ghost Case
The case of State Of Orissa v Ram Bahadur Thapa 1959 pertains to the village of Rasgivindpur. There was an abandoned aerodrome situated in the area.
The case of State Of Orissa v Ram Bahadur Thapa 1959 (AIR 1960 Ori 161) pertains to the village of Rasgivindpur. There was an abandoned aerodrome situated in the area. The Garrison engineer who was in charge of the unit had deployed two chowkidars for the safekeeping of the premises. There was a belief among the village that ghosts possessed the village. Due to this alleged belief, people did not step out of their houses after dark.
Facts: State of Orissa v Ram Bahadur Thapa (1959)
The incident occurred on the night of 20th May 1958, when the respondent (Ram Bahadur Thapa), his employer Jagat Bandhu Chatterjee, and landlord Krishna Chandra Patro ventured one night to bust the popular belief of the villagers regarding the presence of ghosts. This tale of ghosts was more specific around the vicinity of the aerodrome.
After reaching the aerodrome, the group witnessed a rather unusual sight. They stumbled upon something similar to apparitions in a flickering light. This scared them to death, and the respondent acted upon it by indiscriminately hitting the apparitions with his Khurki (knife). Upon discovery, it was found out that the apparent ghosts in the flickering light were a group of women from a nearby village. These women had come to gather ‘Mohua’ flowers at night.
The aftermath of the respondent’s attack was that it took the life of Gelhi Majhiani and further grievously injured two other women, namely Ganga Majhiani and Saunri Majhiani.
After his arrest, Thapa was charged under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for killing Ganga and was also booked under Section 326 for the grievous hurt caused to Ganga and Saunri.
When the matter approached the Sessions Court, the judge acquitted Mr. Thapa. He based his decision on the reasoning of a bona fide mistake of fact, enshrined under Section 79 of the IPC.
In this case, the sessions court acquitted the accused, who had been charged under Sections 302, 324 and 326 of the IPC. The issue revolving around the case was pertaining to the order of the subordinate court, which relieved the accused of the charges against him on the reasoning that it was done as an act of defense under the provisions laid down under Section 79 of the Indian Penal Code.
After hearing both sides, the court decided that the act was covered under the ambit of self-defence as enshrined in general exceptions stated in Chapter IV of the Indian Penal Code. The judges pointed out that the facts and circumstances of the case were such that the act would directly fall under the mistake of fact. Section 79 0f the IPC is a rescue provision which states that if an act is done in a bona fide manner under the mistake of fact, then it will not be penalized. The only requirement is that the mistake shall be in good faith, i.e., bona fide.
The court in the present case reviewed the facts of the case and was satisfied with the acts of the Nepali servant, Mr. Ram Bahadur Thapa. His act, as per the circumstances at that very moment, were reasonable and prudent as there was a doubt of the village being haunted, and they stumbled upon flickering lights that made him do the culpable act.
Section 79 IPC expressed regard to the mistake of fact as a general exception where the crime is carried out. It expresses that when the individual accepts anything more which is a mistake of fact, and by that fact, he actually trusts his act to be valid under law, for example, self-defence, then the act will be named as an act done under good faith . No mistake with respect to law is acknowledged here and just the mistaken part on the facts of the circumstance can be considered under section 79 of IPC. This is the defence that the charged can be ruled by when he accepts that he actually acted in the mistake of fact.
Under the case, the Nepali servant, who is also the respondent, accepts the presence of ghosts as the era was exceptionally old, where individuals broadly acknowledged the presence of ghosts and supernatural phenomena. Hence, at that time, everybody accepted the presence of apparitions, including the judges, who, at the end of the day, were also normal people in society. Respondent was clear with regards to the presence of apparition and thus is misunderstood the women at night to be some sort of ghost and hence assaulted them. This made him mistaken, of fact, as he perceived people as ghosts.
This was the end result of the unpredictable assault where the lawyer of the respondent contends that the respondent really accepted the presence of the ghosts which is the explanation of the assault. This assertion was accepted at the time, and year this incident took place, i.e., in the late 1950s.
Further, the opposing counsel came up with a few questions. One of them is about the duty of care and attention in carrying out the said attack. This contention was surprisingly rebutted by the presiding judge of the appellate court, Justice R Narasimham, who stated that the essential element in pursuance of any act is good faith under the ambit of Section 52 of the Indian Penal Code. Furthermore, he also went on to state that the duty of care and attention and good faith can vary from case to case depending on the facts and circumstances of each distinct case.
In the case of Emperor v. Abdeol Wadood Ahmed, the question relating to the ‘due care’ test was tested. It was held that to check whether due care was taken or not, it was important first to check the capacity and intelligence of the accused. Hence, before declaring whether due care was taken or not, the capacity and intelligence of the accused will be taken into consideration and checked before giving him any relief under Section 79 of the Indian Penal Code.
There are many things that were to be kept in mind while deciding the present matter. Firstly, it had to be noted that the accused was relatively new to the place. Hence he was also new to the environment, the beliefs and rituals and also the living style of people. The local instilled a sense of fear in him by repeatedly narrating stories of ghosts and supernatural occurrences. Another interesting fact was that he was told by one of the locals that the occurrence is most common on the day of Tuesday or Saturday. Coincidently, the day when the unfortunate attack took place was also one of the days.
Moreover, there is circumstantial evidence that goes on to strengthen the accused’s point. Acts such as blowing of the wind, flickering lights and women plucking flowers at such an unusual hour were rather an uncanny experience for the accused too. There were also no signs of resistance seen by the other two people who were accompanying him, including his employer. This shows that other prudent people were under the same impression that the women and the flickering of lights were actual ghosts.
Hence by analyzing the abovementioned factors and circumstances, it was observed by the court that the accused was not guilty. But we cannot hold this judgment to be of such relevance in the present times as times have changed, and so has technology and scientific thought. In the present-day world, the judiciary won’t allow a defense on the ground of supernatural powers.
The defense of mistake of facts applied in the cases might fluctuate to a specific degree relying upon the facts of that case. The duty of the law is to guarantee that the defense of mistake of facts isn’t abused or justice isn’t denied to the victims. This should be possible by guaranteeing specific norms or principles which can apply to all cases generally.
The court is where it needs to see that the blamed acted in good faith, which is characterized under section 52 of IPC, and furthermore determine the fact that he didn’t have any damaging goal while he was assaulting the individual, notwithstanding it the accused should likewise acted with due care and consideration. Understanding the term good faith isn’t simply used to decide the psychological condition of the blamed yet in addition to the sensibility for the offense and it must be an important consideration in permitting the defense.
 Russell L Christopher, “Mistake Of Fact In The Objective Theory Of Justification: Do Two Rights Make Two Wrongs Two Rights?”, The Journal Of Criminal Law And Criminology (1973-), Vol. 85, No. 2 (Autumn, 1994), Pp. 295-332.
 Section 76 And 79 IPC
 Section 52 Of Indian Penal Code 1860
 GEORGE P. FLETCHER, RETHINKING CRIMINAL LAW, P.683 (2000)
 Emperor V. Abdeol Wadood Ahmed (ILR 31 Bom 293)
 PAUL H. ROBINSON, CRIMINAL LAW DEFENCES. S122(F), P.27 (An Objective Theory Of Justification Suggests That No Subjective Mental Element Plays A Part In The Formulation Of Justification).
 Albineser, ‘Mental Elements—Mistake Of Fact And Mistake Of Law’, Vol. 1, The Rome Statute Of The International Criminal Court: A Commentary (2002), 889, 907