Local laws and customs
Drugs are illegal in India. There is a minimum sentence of 6 months for possession of small amounts deemed for personal consumption only. A 10-year sentence for possession of other amounts applies. The judicial process is slow and pre-trial detention lasting several years is normal.
It’s illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade its parts without a licence. India has a strong legal framework to regulate and restrict wildlife trade and is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). If you’re caught purchasing or trafficking such goods illegally, you will be prosecuted and receive prison sentences or fines.
The laws governing alcohol vary from state to state. Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala, Manipur, Nagaland and the union territory of Lakshadweep. Consumption or possession of alcohol in prohibited states can lead to arrest without bail and charges which carry a sentence of 5 to 10 years. In some states foreign nationals and non-resident Indians are able to buy 30-day alcohol permits. Seek advice from your local travel agent/hotel or the authorities to ensure you’re aware of any alcohol prohibition in the state.
During major religious festivals, national holidays and elections a ban on the sale of alcohol is often imposed.
Indian customs has strict rules about goods and currency that can be brought into and taken out of the country. Failure to declare contents you’re carrying which may be prohibited or subject to a tax or duty payment can lead to heavy penalties including imprisonment.
You can find more information about the list of items and rules and regulations on the Indian Customs website.
In a recent judgement the Indian Supreme Court has decriminalised homosexuality. Although it is no longer prohibited by law, Indian society remains conservative and public attitudes towards LGBT people can be less tolerant than in the UK, this is especially the case outside of big cities. Same-sex couples should exercise caution. See our advice page for LGBT travellers.
British nationals have been arrested for bringing satellite phones into India without prior permission from the Indian authorities. More information on the use of satellite phones can be found on the Department of Telecommunications’ website.
You may need prior permission from the Indian authorities to bring equipment like listening or recording devices, radio transmitters, powerful cameras or binoculars into India. Seek advice from the Indian High Commission in London.
There may be very serious penalties for breaking a law which might seem trivial to you, or for doing something which may not be illegal in the UK. Hobbies involving cameras and binoculars, like bird-watching or plane spotting, may be misunderstood particularly near military sites, government buildings, airports and railway stations.
The penalties for child sex offences are severe. New legislation prescribes a minimum jail term of 20 years, which may go up to life imprisonment, or a death sentence to those convicted of raping a child below 12 years of age.
Indian family law is very different from UK law and particular caution is needed when, for example, child custody becomes an issue.
On 30 November 2016, India’s supreme court ruled that the national anthem must be played in every cinema before a film is screened. Audiences are expected to stand when the anthem is played.