In Gian Kaur v. The State of Punjab case, the Supreme Court dealt with the question of the constitutional validity of the offense of attempt to suicide under Section.309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC),1860.
In this case, Gian Kaur was the appellant and the state of Punjab was the respondent. The five-judge constitutional bench included: Justices J.S. Verma, Faizan Uddin, G.N. Ray, G.T. Nanavati JJ, and N.P. Singh.
In this case, Gian Kaur and her spouse Harbans Singh had been charged under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code,1860 for Abetting suicide of their daughter-in-law ‘Kulwant Kaur’. The duo had dauntlessly poured kerosene on their daughter in law and they had a clear-cut volition to see her dead. They wanted to get their son married to another woman who can provide them dowry.
The court had convicted the duo, Gian Kaur, together with her husband Harbans Kaur, for the abetment of the commission of suicide of Kulwant Kaur (daughter-in-law). They were convicted under section 306 of Indian legal code, 1860 i.e. IPC, and were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment of seven years each. alongside this, they were susceptible to pay a fine of Rs. 2000, and upon default an extra 9 months of imprisonment was to be served.
Upon appeal to the supreme court, their conviction was held valid, but the punishment for Gian Kaur was changed to rigorous imprisonment of three years, rather than the sooner rigorous imprisonment of seven years. The sentence of the husband, i.e. Harbans Singh, was maintained because it was, without change. After the conviction was upheld by the supreme court, the appellants filed a Special Leave Petition within the Supreme Court of India challenging their conviction.
Also one of the assertions by the appellant involved a substantive question of law on the constitutional validity of section 306 of the Indian Penal Code challenged under article 21 of the Indian Constitution and a reconsideration of its rendition in the P. Rathinam case.
- Whether section 306 of IPC is constitutionally valid?
- Whether Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India is being violated by Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code?
- Whether “Right to Die ” is included under article 21 of the constitution of India which deals with the “Right to Life”?
CONTENTIONS OF THE APPELLANT
- The appellants contended that the choice of their conviction was erroneous. They also said that there was no abetment for suicide under section 306 of the Indian Penal Code(IPC).
- The duo argued that section 306 of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) was unconstitutional in regard to the legal judgment provided by the court in P. Rathinam case wherein section 309 of IPC was held to be in violation of Article 21 because it held that the Right to Life included the right to die. Therefore if a person assists the commission of suicide merely assists the consummation of fundamental right under article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Hence, section 306 of the Indian Penal Code that punishes for the abetment of suicide is equally in misdemeanor of article 21 of the Constitution of India.
- One of the directly raised points by the appellants was that the inclusion of the proper to die within the ambit of article 21 made section 306 unconstitutional as assistance within the commission of a fundamental right can’t be punishable.
- The appellants also contended that the Indian Penal Code(IPC) Section 309 was also in violation of the Indian constitution under article 14 and article 21. For this, they strongly relied on the judgment given in P. Rathinam case. However, out of the 2 counsels for the appellants, one believed that section 309 only violated article 14 of the constitution and not article 21.
CONTENTIONS OF RESPONDENT
- The respondent, i.e. the state, contended the choice of conviction be upheld under section 306 of the IPC and sentences maintained.
- The state counsels argued that section 306 and section 309 of the Indian Penal Code were independent of each other and grooved different offenses. They believed that section 306 can exist without section 309. Hence, section 306 isn’t invalid and not in violation of either article 14 or 21.
- One of the counsel contended that “the desirability of deleting section 309 from the IPC can’t be ground to carry it constitutionally invalid” which the purpose of euthanasia was irrelevant to choose its constitutional validity.
- The counsel contended that article 21 can’t be construed to incorporate the right to die because it guarantees protection of life and liberty and can’t mean to possess a negative connotation of giving a right to its extinction. Further, there was no merit within the argument by the appellants’ supporting article 14 as there was sufficient discretion given to courts to use the supply pityingly in certain cases that require it. Further, it had been asked that the choice given in P. Rathiram needed to be reconsidered because it was invalid.
- Another counsel contended that section 306 was independent of section 309 of IPC. He didn’t support the choice in P. Rathiram to incorporate the “right to die” under article 21 of the constitution, however, he supported the conclusion that section 309 is unconstitutional because it was arbitrary and barbaric. He was the opinion that it’s universally acknowledged that punishing for attempted suicide is barbaric and hence in violation of section 14 of the constitution.
- The court held that section 309 of IPC didn’t violate Article 21 as it did not include the right to die within its ambit. Further, it had been held that it didn’t violate Article 14 on the grounds of being either barbaric or arbitrary. Good discretion has been given to the courts in giving sentences and it doesn’t prescribe any minimum punishment or makes imprisonment compulsory. Accordingly, the court overruled the judgment in the Rathinam case.
- The court held section 306 to be valid on the grounds that because the right to die wasn’t under the purview of article 21 and thus section 309 is not unconstitutional, there was no reason for section 306 of IPC to be unconstitutional either. Moreover, abetment to kill and plan to kill are separate offenses and hence section 306 will exist even without section 309.
- The court also held that the right to live doesn’t include the right to die. It guarantees the protection of life and therefore the right to measure with dignity until the natural course of life and also the right to a dignified procedure after death. However, it doesn’t include the extinction of life by unnatural means, suicide being an unnatural death, and is not a dignified way. The analogy that the right to freedom of speech includes the right to close up doesn’t apply within the case of article 21.
- The court held that the right to sustain with human dignity doesn’t encompass the decorous to terminate the natural span of a person’s life. A terminally ill person or a person during a persistent vegetative state may need a right to die with dignity as a part of article 21 which provides for the proper to measure with dignity, but this plea isn’t relevant during this case. Hence the plea of euthanasia was held to be irrelevant.
- The court said that the will to delete a provision supported the advice of a law commission is for the legislature to make a decision and it can’t be wont to ask the court to declare it unconstitutional. Only the relevant provisions within the constitution are often wont to challenge the constitutionality of a provision.
ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGEMENT
The constitutional validity of the right to die has been a topic of debate for an extended time. The question first came up within the case of State of Maharashtra v Maruti Sripati Dubal in which the supreme court of Bombay held that the proper to die under article 21 of the constitution includes the proper to die and therefore the Honourable supreme court struck down section 309 of IPC declaring it unconstitutional. Later, the Supreme Court within the case of P. Rathiram supported the choice of the Bombay supreme court. However, the constitutional bench constituted in the Gian Kaur case overruled the previous decisions provided in the P.Rathiram case.
In Gian Kaur, the 5 judge bench said that the right to life wasn’t merely to measure an animal existence, but was a right to measure a dignified life throughout the natural course of one’s life and also includes a right to the dignified procedure after a person’s death, however, it doesn’t mean the proper to finish life through unnatural means like suicide. Further, the court also held that abetment to suicide and plan to suicide is separate offenses, which may be a very pertinent point. Nobody can have a rig someone to require his life, and it can’t be condoned on the grounds that it’s merely assisting the fulfillment of a fundamental right. Thus, abetment to suicide provided in Section 309 of IPC remains a heinous crime regardless of its constitutionality. “Moreover, it is often construed that India being a state is more centered and astounding to guard the lives of its citizens. Constituting a statute that encourages the death of its nationals is against the framework of the state.”
On the purpose of euthanasia, the court held that during a situation of persistent vegetative state, the patient may have a right to die under the proper to measure with dignity. now was further reiterated during a recent judgment of the Supreme Court in 2018 i.e. Common Cause v Union of India. Thus, the decision given in the Gian Kaur’s case remains relevant and thought of to be good judgment.
Author(s) Name: Muskan (Panjab University Regional Centre, Ludhiana)