SHOULD ATTEMPT TO SUICIDE BE DECRIMINALIZED?

INTRODUCTION

The literal definition of ‘suicide’ is that it is the act of taking one’s own life intentionally and voluntarily taking some deliberate action in that direction.  The act of suicide is considered to be the gravest and most gruesome act one decides to take up. Only when life does not seem to be livable anymore, only when living in itself seems like a burden or a task does one decide to end it for him or herself. Though one can never be aware of all the reasons behind people committing suicide, there are several common reasons behind the same.  One of the most common reasons for suicide commitments is “traumatic stress”, generated from many varying places like home, work, society etc. this may come across differently for different people, for one it may be huge and regular fights at one’s marital or parental home, for someone else it may be a vicious cycle of debts or other financial troubles. The intensity of stress one can bear also varies from person to person some people tend to have a sensitive heart and tend to get affected by things on a deeper level. Though one of the major reasons may be stress, it is not the only reason, exploitation, substance use, serious mental illness, chronic illness and pain, social isolation etc. are other common reasons for the same.

FACTS AND FIGURES      

According to the world health organization, every year around 70,000 people commit suicide and many more attempt to commit suicide across the globe every single year and it seems to be increasing. The pandemic and increasing mental health issues led to an all-time high in the year 2020 where India recorded 1,53,052 suicides – an average of 418 daily – in 2020, according to the latest central government data. According to the report, ‘family problems’ (33.6 per cent), ‘marriage-related problems’ (5 per cent) and ‘illness’ (18 per cent) together accounted for 56.7 per cent of total suicides in the country during 2020. The numbers are huge and it is a matter of great concern as to how exactly do people end up taking such a harsh decision and what can be done about it. A Suicide attempt in most cases is a very fragile matter and should be considered with utmost care and sensitivity.

ATTEMPT TO SUICIDE CRIMINALIZED

Indian Penal Code states “whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to a year [or with fine, or with both][2]. The said act hence criminalizes suicide attempts as well as assistance for the same. As mentioned above, suicide attempts are a matter of sensitive concern, but it has been treated as a punishable offence in Indian Law. This section has been existing since the British times keeping the thoughts and scenarios of the society at that time but it has been increasingly criticized, it has yet not been repealed but is said to be misused at times by hospitals, corrupt police officials or others. If one has been guaranteed the right to live, one should also have the right to decide if he/she even wants to live anymore. Although there is no mention of death by suicide in the Indian Penal Code as an offence, it is an offence to abet a suicide as per IPC, “if any person commits suicides, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, shall also be liable to fine.”[3].Classifying abetment to suicide as an offence does seem fair as putting someone in the position to kill oneself equates to murder which is an offence in itself.

THE MENTAL HEALTHCARE ACT, 2017

The Mental Healthcare Act of 2017, enacted in 2018 poses some of the limitations in the operations of this act. Attempt to die by suicide is discussed in Section 115 of MHCA 2017, henceforth, Part 1 states that “Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the IPC, any person who attempts to die by suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code.” In addition, the act says that “The appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.” This section comes up as a knight in the shining armour for all the reasons stated above. Since, severe stress does lead to suicidal thoughts in the minds of the victim, punishing him/her for something they cannot control just adds up to the agony for them, this section provides a shield and assistance on top it to get out of that state of mind.

POINT OF VIEW

Though this section is not very helpful in totality, there is a flipside to the story as well where the criminals or other accused or false minded people threaten to kill themselves if not given what they desire or the like. But, the proportion of the population which is being poorly affected by the section is going to be much more who are using it as a shield against their malafide intentions. There have been a number of attempts made in the past to repeal Section 309 in totality, though some restrictions have been laid on the section, as mentioned earlier, the section continues to exist.

CHANGES OCCURRING

Dr Vijay Kumar, who has been advocating on the said issue, stated that the process of repealing the section has been going on for years. In 1971, the Law Commission in its 42nd Report recommended the repeal of Section 309 IPC. The IPC (Amendment) Bill, 1978, was passed by Rajya Sabha, but before it could be passed by Lok Sabha, Parliament was dissolved, and the Bill lapsed. In ‘Gian Kaur v the State of Punjab[6], 1996, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 309. However, in 2008, the Law Commission in its 210th Report said that any attempt to suicide needed medical and psychiatric care, and not punishment. In March 2011, the Supreme Court recommended to Parliament that it should consider the feasibility of deleting the section.

CONCLUSION

Various attempts are being made to decriminalize attempts to suicide, but this may not lead to a fall in the number of suicides actually taking place, for that the government should strengthen the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and increase its scope so that help can reach everyone. Also, sections that criminalize the attempts to suicide are of great help as they would avoid someone being manipulated into taking their own life.

Author(s) Name: Lakshya Bhatia (Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies, Delhi)

References:

[1]India Recorded 418 Suicides Daily In 2020, Maharashtra Saw Maximum Deaths, https://www.ndtv.com/, (October 29, 2021) , ndtv (1)

[2]Section 309 IPC -Section 309 in The Indian Penal Code. 309. Attempt to commit suicide. —Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall he punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year 1[or with fine, or with both]

[3]Section 306 IPC – ‘Abetment of suicide’ as an offence punishable under this code. If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

[4]Sec 115(1) MHCA,2017 – THE MENTAL HEALTHCARE ACT, 2017. NO. 10 OF 2017.

[5]Section 115 (2) MHCA, 2017 – THE MENTAL HEALTHCARE ACT, 2017.

[6]Smt. Gian Kaur v State of Punjab 1996 AIR 1946, 1996 SCC (2) 648

[7]Mohamed Thaver, Sec 309 IPC: Questions and issues around an archaic Section of the law, https://indianexpress.com/The Indian Express, June 23, 2020 3:03:04 pm, 6468338/ (1,2)