Friday, 4 February 2022



                                                 ATTEMPT TO SUICIDE


India has the highest suicide rate in the Southeast Asian region, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Depression, chronic ill health,guilt,trauma,subatance abuse, failure in exams, and loss of loved ones are some of the reasons which influence a person’s decision to take his or her life. A total 1, 34,516 cases of suicide were reported in 2018 in India, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. While the rate of suicide was 9.9 in 2017, it increased to 10.2 in 2018. The Government of India classifies a death as suicide if it meets three criteria, they are, it is an unnatural death, the intent to die originated within the person and there is a reason for the person to end his or her life (the reason may have been specified in a suicide note or unspecified). If one of these criteria is not met, the death may be classified as death because of illness, murder or in another statistical.

The main reasons for suicide in India may be the marriage related issues (extra marital affairs of either of the party, divorce, domestic violence, etc.), examination failures, love affairs, death of any special person, illness, unemployment, poverty, etc. According to 2018 data from the National crime Records Bureau, 10,159 students are committing suicide every year, that is, one student every hour.


Section 309 of Indian Penal code, criminalises attempted suicide as well as suicide assistance. According to section 309, 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 one year or with fine, or with both. Although section 309 is still in effect, the mental Healthcare Act, 2017 (enacted July 2018) has restricted its application. Section 115 of the Act says that, notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the IPC, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code. Section 115 of the Act decriminalises section 309 of IPC.

Section 309 of IPC dictates the penal provision for attempting suicide. If a person is suffering from any mental trauma or illness, he or she should be given reformative treatment rather than a deterrent punishment- which is simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year (or with fine or both). India has retained much of the colonial legal legacy in its penal jurisprudence. But the fact is that the British parliament decriminalized attempt to Suicide in 1961 through the Suicide Act. 


 There are two groups, the one which one advocates for penal provision (punishment for attempt to suicide) and the other continuously demand that attempt to suicide be decriminalised. Those who favours the penal provision generally quotes the judgement in Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab(1996) where the court held that the right to life is a natural right embodied in Article 21 of the constitution but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life and, therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the concept of right to life. On the other hand, those who argue that the act attempting to suicide should not be criminalized quotes the case, Maruti Shripati Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra (1986). In this judgement the Bombay High court declared section 309 unconstitutional. It is said in the case that, “for example the freedom of speech and expression includes freedom not to speak and remain silent. The freedom of association and movement likewise includes the freedom not to join any association or to move anywhere. If this is so, logically it must follow that right to live will include also a right not to live or not to be forced to live”.


Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, the section 115 only apply for those suffering from mental illness. There is presumption of severe stress in case of an attempt to die by suicide. For example in Irom Sharmila who was on 16 years hunger strike against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), she was arrested on attempt to suicide and put into jail for one year and force feeded her. In this case there was no severe stress thus she was arrested for attempt to suicide. 

But what if severe stress is not proved? We have to shift from penalising attempts to suicide to making such cases medico legal ones and provide psychological or mental treatment and support to the persons affected. As the issue demands a reformative stance, we need a permanent solution like repealing section 309 of the IPC or striking it down. 


The bench of CJI S A Bodbe and justice A S Bopanan and V Ramasubramanian was virtually hearing a PIL filed by animal activist Sangeeta Dogra, who sought directions to ensure prevention of suicide attempts by people who threw themselves inside animal enclosures in zoos. The bench observed that the Mental Healthcare Act negates Section 309 of the IPC and noticed the dichotomy between section 309 of IPC and Mental Healthcare Act. CJI Bobde also said one cannot presume the intentions behind a suicide and asked Attorney General K.K. Venugopal to assist the court on the issue. The discussion are still on whether to decriminalize attempt to suicide or not. But it is still punishable offence under IPC. 


By, Asha Sebastian.

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