“DECRIMINALISING ATTEMPT TO SUICIDE, A SOCIAL URGENCY”
– Bhupendra Rajput1
Decriminalising attempt of suicide has become a social urgency in the present scenario. It’s really easier said than done to accept the law i.e. Section 309 of IPC, 1860 in which the victim who does an act of committing suicide, willbe punished if he/sheremains aliveafter theact.Already,that person is beneath the clouds of problems and tensions, our law helps to accomplish his/her mission of death by creating another clouds of punishments and
fines On the contrary,if thatperson is being supported, or gets counselled by good councillors, than might be he/she can mend their life with greater thoughts, visions and goals. After all, living life with full of respect and enjoyment is really not a pan of cakes for everyone. It doesn’t mean that we are supporting for suicide, however abuse or misuse of this law must be strictly dealt under the eye of law.
In the present era, news channels, front page of newspapers, chit-chat with friends or family, radio and all, these type of breaking news like two minor schoolstudents committed suicide, a pregnant woman put a full stop in the way of her life because of dowry torture, some due to loads and loads of debt, love birds ran away from their houses and committed life this type of news can beheard orseen at every doorstep. Sometimes we ponder, whatever be the reason and situations,
“WHY THE HELL THEY COMMITTED SUICIDE”?
God has given every person a very beautiful precious gift i.e. Life, we must be thankful to him, instead of wasting it. Suicide is nota solution, those who commits, can’t cut the mustard. They cannot face the ups and downs of their life. Difficulties, hurdles and miseries are part of life and reality and for many they instil freshness and provide zeal and motivation for achieving the goalof life, but for some they become the cause of self-destruction. Those people who are stuck between a rock and a hard place or doesn’t have the guts to face the realities or to bear the pain decides to end the precious gift of life and finally commits SUICIDE because it is not a piece of cake for everyone.
“WHYKILL YOURSELF?? LIFE WILL DO IT FOR YOU!!”
2Over 1 million people die by suicide every year, making it the 10th leading causeof death worldwide. It is specifically a common cause of death among young adults. Rates are higher in men than in women, with males 3 to 4 times more likely to kill themselves than females. There are an estimated 10 to 20 million non-fatal attempted suicides every year.
3UNDER INDIAN LAW, SECTION 309 OF INDIAN PENAL CODE, 1860 STATES THAT:
“Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission ofsuch offence,shallbepunished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to 1 year (or with fine, or with both)” Thus,this section punishes the person who commits or does any act to commit suicide, and after this, if that person got saved, then under the eyeof law,that person will be punished on his failureto do this unlawful act. Moreover, if a person abets or compels, or by force helps the other person to commit suicide, then that person willbe punished under the eye of law for committing an offence ofAbetment ofSuicide under Section 306 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to fine. However, if a person abets a Child or Insane person or any Delirious person, then that person shall be punished with death or imprisonment of 10 years and fine both.
WHY ONLY THE VICTIM GETS PUNISHMENT?? WHY NOT THOSE WHO FRAMED THE CAGE OF PROBLEMS AND LEFT NO OTHER OPTION EXCEPT SUICIDE??
It is really unfortunatethatAttempt to CommitSuicide continues to find mention as an offence under our PenalStatute notwithstanding the fact when a distressed or frustrated person decides to terminate his/her previous life prematurely, it is indeed irrational and unfair to visit him with punishment on his failure to do so. Such vulnerable individuals rather require Sympathy, Counselling and Appropriate treatment and but law adds fuelto fire. It has been rightly said after thefailure of act of committing suicide:”I justcouldn’t live with myself knowing I had just killed myself” and if the wellof problems and unbearable circumstances are created by his/her own, then why law get in the way of his/her life. It is their own life, and has complete right to jump into the wellor stay alive. But still law punishes, if that person couldn’t complete his/her mission, and through punishments helps that person to pull the plug of life.
Therefore, due to this, I must appreciate…with their Bull’s eye…the lawyers smelled something fishy and focused on ourIndian Constitution to check the ConstitutionalAspect of this law and found that,it violates mainly The fundamentalrights of the citizen i.e. Article 14 i.e. Right to equality and chiefly Article 21 i.e. Right to Life.
In P Rathinam vs. Union of India (1994),4 ATwo-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court held that Section 309 of IPC, 1860 deserves to be enacted from the Penal statute book so as to humanise our penal laws. It was held that it violates Article 21, and so, is void. Also in Maruti Shripati Dubal Vs. State of Maharashtra (1996),5 A Two-Judge Bench of the Bombay High Court bring into being that Section 309 of IPC, 1860 was Ultra Vires, Article 14 and Article 21 of our Indian Constitution.6 But in March 1996, the above cases were overruled by a Constitutional Bench of the Apex court in Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab wherein it was held that Article 21 of our Constitution guaranteeing Right to life does not include Right to Die. It was further held that, right to life was a natural right embodied in Article 21, but suicide was an unnatural termination or extinction of life and therefore, ‘incompatible and inconsistent’ with the conceptof right to life. It must be mentioned that the Supreme Court in Gian Kaur’s7 case had only upheld the constitutional validity of Section 309 of IPC, 18608 and it did not go into the question of desirability of retaining the same in the IPC.
In the past saga, In Hinduism, the widow with her own wish,or if not, then by force and due to religious customs was burnt with thecorpse of her husband. Moreover Jainism had a similar practice called as Santhara.9 This practice in Hinduism called as Sati Pratha is still practised in our country, but still it was not considered as offence in earlier times. Section 309 of IPC provides that whoever attempts to commit suicideand does any acttowards thecommission ofsuch offence shall be punished. Thus, technically speaking, suicide as such is not a crime under the IPC; it is only an attempt to commit suicide that is punishable under this section. In other words, it is only when a person fails in his mission to commit suicide, Penallaw comes into picture. On the contrary, if such a person succeeds, there would be no offender who could be brought within the purview of the law. WHAT AN IRONY?? Perhaps this is the only offence where an alleged perpetrator after successfully committing an offence would escape from the clutches of law foreveras he/she would notbe alive anymore. Thus, recently the developments on the above matter were presented to the Delhi High Court by senior standing counsel Jatan Singh. Takingthe submission of the counselon record, the Court asked him to file a status report on the matter. The petitioner, theMental Health Foundation of India, works for the welfare of mentally ill persons. The petitioner submitted that those who attempted to commit suicide deserved sympathy rather than punishment. It further submitted that the Supreme Court, the Law Commission and several High Courts had recommended de- criminalisation of the offence, describing it anachronistic and harsh on the victim. Mr. Singh made this submission in reply to public interest litigation (PIL)10 petition by a non-government organisation seeking de-criminalisation of Section 309, arguing that the provision is ultra virus of the Constitution and strictly violates Article 21 in it. Citing the grounds fordeletion of the provision from the penalcode,the petitioner said that the present piece of legislation is vague and undefined to suit today’s parlance as it fails to appreciate the sensitivity and compassion that is required to dealwith individuals who have already suffered much trauma in life and have to undergo anotherround ofsuffering due to this redundant provision of law. On the other side, the provision was also violation ofArticle 14 as it was unable to distinguish different mental, physicaland socialcauses which might lead to different individuals to attempt suicide for different ends and purposes, the petitioner added.
Although, The Union government is on course to delete Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) from the Indian PenalCode as 25 States have given their consent to theLaw Commission’s recommendation for removal of the criminal provision from the code. But The Law Commission in its report in 2008 had recommended decriminalisation of Section 309, saying:”It is unreasonable to inflict punishment upon a person who is already having a chip on his/her shoulder, on account of family discord, destitution, loss of a dear relation or other cause of a like nature, overcomes the interest of self-preservation and decides to take his own life. In such a case, the unfortunate person deserves sympathy, counselling and appropriate treatment, and certainly not prison.”However, itwilltake a yearor moreto decriminalise the attempt to suicide section as the Centre is not in favour of a stand-alone legislation to delete the provision from the penalcode. It is of the view that deletion of the provision should be part of legislation for comprehensive amendments to different criminallaws. As the criminal lawis on the Concurrent List ofthe Constitution,the Centrehad written to State governments and Union Territories seeking their opinions on the Law Commission’s recommendation for deletion of the provision. In response to that, 25 State governments, including the Delhi government,11 have reacted in positive to the Home Ministry’s letters, while four States including Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have opposed the proposal to delete the provision. In India, firstly it was the 42nd report submitted by the 5th Law Commission of India (June, 1971)12 which recommended, inter alia, the repeal of section 309 of IPC perceiving itas harsh and unjustifiable.Pursuant to this recommendation, the same was incorporated in the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1978 and was even passed by the Rajya Sabha nut before its passing in the Lower House, the Lok sabha was dissolved and hence the legislation lapsed. No efforts had been made by any successive dispensations neither at centrenor in any State even to re-introduce the same Bill.
THE RIGHT TO LIFE MEANS – RIGHT TO DEATH
When we speak of the right to life it means more than merely the right to be alive, it encompasses the right to self-ownership, the notion that one’s life is one’s own and that you are not beholden to anyone else by the mere factthat you are alive. It follows from this that there can be no duty on anyone to live beyond a pointof their own choosing, and there should be no attempt to interfere with suicidal behaviour whether by individuals or by the law. This is not the role of criminallaw. Criminal legislation is not the vehicle for society’s pronouncements on questions of how one should liveone’s life.It instead involves the entirely practical exercise of ensuring that individuals are able to live freely and enjoy their freedom without fear of externalinterferences like theft, violence or murder. Criminal legislation should guarantee a safe space for autonomous individualaction – like suicide.After all, it is rightly said that :
“In life Failure is not the Real end, But it can be the real Beginning of the Success”
Instead of punishing on the failure of act, if wehelp the victim to off the hook from every sides by proper counselling and advising, then might be he/she can get down to the brass tacks with greater aspects to achievethe goalof his/her life. Moreover, the Supreme Court, recently, recommended to Parliament that it consider the feasibility of deleting Section 309of the Indian PenalCode (attemptto commit suicide) from the statute. Making this recommendation, a Bench of Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra13 said: Though a Constitution Bench in Gian Kaur’s case had held Section 309 IPC constitutionally valid, “the time has come when it should be deleted by Parliament as it has becomeanachronistic. Aperson attempts suicide in depression,and hencehe needs help so that he/she can hold their horses, rather than punishment” butin the present era, there is an ever-growing trend witnessed amongst certain individuals to enacta suicidedrama at public places on trivialmatters so as to gain cheap publicity in print and digital media. Many-a-times some jilted lovers also climb high rise buildings or towers threatening to end their life. The cases of such nuisance elements need to be dealt severely as they tend to disturb public peaceand tranquillity.
DECRIMINALIZING ATTEMPT TO SUICIDE SHOULD NOT COME AS A BONANZA FOR SUCH PERSONS:
A momentago, on 25th January,in PuneA Death-defying railway stunt goes viralon Internet.14 Ayoungman lay prone on the railway tracks in Pune, let the bulk and ferocity of aspeeding train whiz overhim, inches from his body, emerged unscathed, got his friend to catch the bravado on camera and put iton web.And that person didn’t committed offence under Section 309 because he intended to be live not to die. One may recall the much-publicized Anna Hazare’s 12-day long fast in Delhi (August, 2011)15 demanding strong LokPallegislation wherein had he continued to do so even after physicians advised otherwise, the police authorities had no option but to forcibly pick him up so as to prevent any untoward incident.As far as these Hunger Strikes including Fast- unto-Death are concerned, such tactics are resorted to as a means to pressurize some authority to concede demand (s) of such agitators. So generally speaking, intention of such person(s) is not to killhim/herself. Only if such person (s) sitting on fast unto death proceeds to refuse all nourishment and the stageis reached where thereis imminentdanger of death ensuing, he/she could be held guilty of the offence of attempted suicide.
Last of all, keeping in mind both the faces and sides and cutting to the chase, it can be concluded that an attempt to commit suicide indeed merits decriminalization and hence omission from our penalstatute i.e. IPC. It must be realized that a determined suicide can never be prevented by the fear of only one year’s imprisonment or fine or both as prescribed in section 309 IPC as it willbe just a slap on the wrist for the offender. This provision which has since been termed as “Anachronisticlaw” needs to beimmediately effaced from IPC.Aperson who is trying to kill himself cannot think about survivalor punishment after attemptbecause as per his/hernotions:” Itis easier to End life than Mend life when a person lost his head”
At the same time it must be ensured that those who tend to abuse or misuse the same in one way or the other must be strictly dealt with in accordance with the law.As ship without sailor, refill without pen are worthless, in the same way to put at least comma, instead of fullstop to the crimes and offences undergone, strict interpretation of laws are necessary and should besternly obligatory becauseAction speaks louder than words. After all one must pay ears to what Sir Walter Scott said: “And come he slow or come he fast; it is but Death, who comes at Last”
• Ratanlal & Dhirajlal – “The Indian Penal Code”, 28th Edition Reprint 2002, Justice Y V Chandrachud & V R Manohar.
• Universal Publications – “The Indian Penal Code,1860- Bare Act.
• J.N. P andey – “Indian Constitution”
• Lexis Nexis – The Indian Penal Code,1860.
• Eric Marcus – “Why Suicide”
Blogs & Websites
• Blog O’ Legal – old1.legalera.in