SUICIDE- A Terrible Death
Updated: Jan 11
This article is written by Shreyanshi Jain
In the era of globalization, suicide rates have increased. Recently a very famous and talented bollywood actor, Sushant Singh committed suicide. India has a population of about 138+ crore and out of which around 2,30,000 people die by suicide every year(as in year 2016). With an increasing suicide rates, the need to understand the legal provisions relating to it has also increased. Various sections of IPC deals with abetment to suicide and attempt to suicide. But these provisions proved to be unsatisfactory and lead to the commencement of Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. This article deals with various legal provisions relating to suicide and their application.
WHAT IS SUICIDE??
Suicide is not specifically defined in Indian Penal Code (IPC), but can be understood as an act of intentionally causing one’s own death. An attempt to Suicide is done with the intention of taking one’s own life, which however does not result in death.
Data from World Health Organisation
1. More than 8,00,000 people die by suicide every year.(one person dies every 40 seconds).
2. For every one death by suicide more than 20 people attempt to suicide.
3. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in15-19 years old.
According to the World Health Organization’s report, India has the highest suicide rate in the South-East Asian region. In the last two decades, the suicide rate in India has increased from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000. Among the states, Tamil Nadu have the highest suicide rate, followed by Maharashtra and West Bengal.
LAW IN INDIA
ENGLISH poet William Henly wrote: “i am the master of my fate. I am the Captain of my soul. “ – How far does it apply ?
Now, first of all let us understand the bare provisions relating to Suicide in India. Under the Indian Penal Code, sec- 305, 306, and 309 deals with abetment and attempt to suicide.
SECTION 305 AND SECTION 306
A person who abets the commission of suicide of a –
child or an insane – shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life with fine.
Any person (other than child or an insane)- shall be punished with maximum imprisonment of 10 years with fine.
In Archana Dubey V/s State of Madhya Pradesh, the deceased Bhaskar Pandey committed suicide by taking some pesticides because of Archana Dubey and his father. Archana had a love affair with the deceased. Later, Archana and his father forced the deceased to marry Archana. They also threatened him that they will file some false complaint against the deceased. Under this pressure, the deceased committed suicide and died. The court held that the petitioner did not had the intention of causing the deceased to commit suicide, the deceased did so because of his supersensitive behaviour. As per section 107 of IPC “Abetment” involves a mental process of instigating a person or intentionally aiding a person in doing of a thing-Without a positive act on part of accused to instigate or aid in committing suicide, conviction cannot be sustained. The petitioners neither had the mens rea nor the actus reas and hence their conviction was held unsustainable.
U/s 309 of IPC, punishment for an attempt to commit suicide is given . Suicide is the only offence, for completion of which, no punishment can be prescribed. Sec 309 says as follows-
“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.”
In P. Rathinam V/s Union of India, petitioners had filed petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. The court held that SECTION 309 of the Penal Code deserves to be removed from the Statute book to humanize our penal laws. It is a cruel and irrational provision, and it may result in punishing a person again (doubly) who is already in pain. The SC held that right to life under Article 21 includes Right to die with dignity. So 309 voilates article 21 and was held void.
Gian kaur V/s State of Punjab -The decision of Rathinam V/s Union of India was ruled out in the case of Gian Kaur V/s State of Punjab. Gian Kaur and her husband Harbans Singh were convicted by a Trial Court under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code. It was argued that, as held in P. Rathinam v. Union of India, the Article 21 right to life includes the right to die. So, a person abetting suicide is merely assisting in the enforcement of Article 21. A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court overruled P. Rathinam. The court over-ruled its earlier ruling and held that Right to life is a fundamental right and waiver of fundamental right is not allowed. There is a difference between dying with dignity (naturally) and dying by self harm(unnaturally). Right to life does not include right to die. Hence Sec. 309 of IPC was held valid.
PATH TO A CHANGE
MENTAL HEALTHCARE BILL 2013 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha and was passed by the parliament on 7th April 2017 and came into force on 7th July 2018 as MENTAL HEALTHCARE ACT, 2017
Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 stands in contrast with section 309 of IPC
Let us take a case- A girl named ‘Y’ got raped by her neighbour. She is is pain and facing extreme mental and physical sufferings. She finally lands into a dilemma and commits suicide but fails in her attempt. Now, is punishing her under section 309 justified ?
Section 309 of IPC, which deals with those who attempt to die by suicide, was not only unsatisfactory but also discriminatory. It was inserted in the Code in order to prevent suicides. The main aim of adding such a section was to create a deterrent effect. However, it converted into a monstrous act that inflicted further suffering on the person who had already found the life so painful and unbearable and the chances of happiness so slender that the person decided to embrace death to end the life. If such a person failed in the attempt to die, inflicting torture and degradation by punishment would be unreasonable and unjust. In fact, such persons deserve compassionate and sympathetic treatment.
Attempt to die by suicide is discussed in Section 115 of MHCA 2017.
Section 115 of MHCA, 2017
This section of the Mental Healthcare Act treats suicide as a medical issue. It shows sympathy towards the victims of suicide. According to the Section 115 of Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA), 2017, suicide attempters are presumed to have severe stress, not to be punished and the government should have duty to provide care, treatment, and rehabilitation to reduce the risk of recurrence. Considering the stigma and abetment laws associated with attempted suicide, the words “mental illness” were changed to “severe stress” in 2016.
Further SUICIDE, is a psychiatric problem and not a manifestation of criminal instinct. State governments are required to provide adequate care and rehabilitation for such individuals as to prevent a recurrence of an attempt to suicide. However, that does not absolve anyone from abetting an attempt to die by suicide. That is to say if anyone abets any person to die by suicide, he will definitely be punished as per section 305 and 306 of IPC
HOW FAR DOES IT AFFECT SECTION 309 OF IPC ??
The Mental Health Care Act does not repeal Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, but merely provides the presumption of mental illness. Thewords “notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of Indain Penal Code” immunizes section 309 of IPC from section 115 of MHCA,2017. Section 115 gives a presumption that anyone who commits suicide is suffering from mental stress. It limits the scope of application of section 309 of IPC. The words “unless proved otherwise” gives way for police investigations. However Section 115 of Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and Section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 continue to stand in contrast.
India is a country with regional, religious, social, and linguistic diversity. A country of different people from different backgrounds but they all have one thing in common, a heart full of emotions. This can be a reason for an increased suicide rates in India. Attempt to suicide is not a offence in many countries but in India, it is still punishable although its scope have been narrowed after the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. A person who attempt to suicide need proper counseling and psychiatric treatment. The schools and colleges should also provide such counseling to depressed students so that they can tackle with their exam stress and other problems as well. Parents must be very friendly to their children so that they can share their problems openly with them . We need to understand that a person who is in dilemma need love, care and affection rather than penal proceedings. They should be sent to rehabilitation centres and must be encouraged to give life a second chance. Always remember, Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.