This article is authored by Pankhuri Pankaj, a 2nd year student pursuing her BA-LLB degree from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies. She is currently interning with Lexpeeps. This article summarises certain key provisions of “attempt to suicide and abetment to suicide” under the Indian Penal Code and is qualified in its entirety by reference to the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
In simple terms, if one may attempt to define the term suicide, it is the act of taking one’s life voluntarily. It is the practice of doing away with one’s life by themself. Currently in India suicide have unfortunately become a very common sight to come across and the suicide rates can be seen to be increasing at an alarmingly high rate, especially in the student community due to high competitiveness, anxiousness, stress, and fear of failure. In India, every life is considered precious and has been dignified with the right to life and not even the person who is in possession of that right is granted to violate that fundamental right. It is important to know that in India not suicide in itself but offences like attempt to suicide and abetment to suicide are considered penal offences liable with punishment.
ATTEMPT TO SUICIDE
Till 2017, under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, attempt to suicide has been defined as a punishable offence. This section lays down that a person shall be liable with the punishment of simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with a fine, or both, if he attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence.
This section can be made applicable for only those who fail to commit suicide and survive the attempt to suicide, those who succeed in committing suicide obviously cannot be charged under this offence since they seize to exist. This section makes the person accountable for attempting to take a life, even though it’s his own, and sets an example for others to not commit the same offence.
This particular section has been the centre of multiple debates across the nation where the validity of section 309 has been discussed on an elaborate level. Broadly these debates were divided into two parts, on one hand, it was felt by many that it was inhumane to punish a person who had already hit rock bottom and tried to take his own life. It was understood as cruelty and was believed to further encourage that person to succeed in the act of committing suicide which he failed earlier. On the other hand, it was argued that Article 21 of the constitution graciously rewards the people with the right to live with dignity and have a right over their life but nowhere the right to take one’s own life has been granted as a right. Punishment for individuals who attempt to commit suicide was rather seen as a preventive measure to lower the rates of suicide.
After weighing all the arguments raised on the legality and morality of Section 309, various Law Commission Reports were approved and finally, the Supreme Court decriminalized Attempt to Suicide under Medical Health Care Act, 2017.
In the case of State v. Sanjay Kumar Bhatia (1985 CriLJ 931) for the first time, decriminalization of Section 309 was favoured. The Delhi Court highly condemned Section 309 and said that the continuance of Section 309 I.P.C. is unworthy of human society like ours and has no justified right to continue to remain on the statute book. It further sympathised with the fact that a person who was unfortunately driven to such frustration so as to seek his life to escape human punishment is hounded by the police for his failure rather than being attended by a psychiatric clinic is nowhere justified.
In the case of Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra (1987 CriLJ 743), the Bombay High Court held that Section 309 is directly contrary to the provisions enshrined under Article 14 and 21, which lay out the ideals of equality before law and right to life. The court ruled that under Right to Life under Article 21 also includes the Right not to Live and therefore punishing someone for attempting to suicide is violative of the right under Article 21.
In Rathinam v. Union of India (AIR 1994 SC 1844), the Supreme Court held that the right not to live a forced life is a part of life.
However, in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (AIR 1996 SC 946) the Supreme Court overruled the judgement given by the Delhi and Bombay High Court and upheld the constitutionality of Section 309, and similarly, in Chenna Jagadeeswar v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the honourable High Court of Andhra Pradesh also upheld the constitutionality of Section 309.
The 156th Law Commission Report presented in the year 1997, favoured Section 309 and recommended retention of criminalization of attempt to suicide. Later the 210th Law Commission Report presented in 2008, chaired by Dr. Justice AR Lakshmanan, and titled- “Humanization and Decriminalization of Attempt to Suicide¨, strongly recommended to repeal Section 309 from the IPC.
After failing to get an approval over decriminalization of Section 309 with the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, finally, when the Mental Healthcare Bill, 2016, got the assent of the President, Section 309 was decriminalized and was repealed.
ABETMENT TO COMMIT SUICIDE
Under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, Abetment to Suicide has been considered a penal offence and any person committing this offence can be held liable with punishment. It states that any person who abets or assists a person in the commission of suicide shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to 10 years and shall also be liable to fine.
It’s first important to understand the meaning of the term “abetment” which has been defined under Section 107 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. In general terms, a person is understood to abet an act when he/she instigates or engages in conspiracy or assistance in the commission of the offence. Voluntarily encouraging or pushing a person to do an act through words or actions can be understood as abetment. The person responsible for abetment is referred to as an abettor, defined under section 108 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. In the case of abetment to commit suicide, the offence can be understood as instigating or pushing an already overly emotional person to the point of considering suicide as the only option to escape.
It is necessary that the instigation should be intentional. For instance, in the case of Sanju alias Sanjay Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh (2002 5 SCC 371: 2000 Supp SC 2246), the Supreme Court quashed the chargesheets and held that words uttered in a fight in the spur of the moment cannot be taken to be uttered with mens rea and cannot be held against the defender and he is not liable under Section 306 for abetment to suicide.
Section 306 creates a specific offence and the liability arises only when the suicide is committed. In the case of Mohit Pandey (1871 3 NWP 316), the accused was held guilty for the death of the widow and the court held that one cannot escape liability on the ground that he expected a miracle to happen and did not anticipate that the pyre would be ignited by the human agency.
In the case of Chitresh Kumar Chopra v State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi), the court held that each person has their own reasons and problems which leads to a suicidal pattern which is different in every case and hence it is important to look at the facts to draw a conclusion rather than trying to fit the case into a straight jacket formula. The court also dealt with the terms “instigation” and “goading”, and also pronounced the opinion that mala fide intention is necessary to establish abetment. Similar contentions were held in State of West Bengal v Orilal Jaiswal & Another ( 1 SCC 73), and Ramesh Kumar v State of Chattisgarh ( 9 SCC 618).
The case of Manikandan v State ( SC 316) was a landmark judgement where the court held that the mere mention of a person in a suicide note would not make him or her accountable for abetment to suicide. To invoke Section 306 the suicide letter needs to be scrutinized carefully first. The court further stated that it is not the wish and willingness nor the desire of the victim to die, it must be the wish of the accused, it is the intention on the part of the accused that the victim should die that matters much. There must be a positive act on the part of the accused.
To combat the ever-increasing menace of dowry deaths, Criminal Law (Second Amendment) Act, 1983 has provided that where a married girl commits suicide within Seven years of her marriage, the court may presume that her husband and his relatives abetted her to commit suicide by virtue of Section 113A in the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The case of State of Punjab v. Iqbal Singh (AIR 1991 SC 1532) and Brij Lal v. Prem Chand (AIR 1989 SC 1661) can be taken into account to understand this concept better.
It is also important to understand that Abetment to Suicide is very different from Consent Killing. While the former is punishable under Section 306 of the IPC, the latter is homicide by consent which falls under Exception 5 of Section 300, IPC and is punishable under Section 304.
Thus concluding, Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 has to be used responsibly since it’s quite sensitive. In India, the life of a person is considered of paramount importance and the unfortunate incident of suicide is considered a grave loss of a life which needs to be brought to justice by punishing those who abetted the unfortunate act.
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