Every year, an unfathomable amount of people commit suicide in India. The government classifies a death as a suicide if it is unnatural, the intent to die came from within the individual, and the person had a motive to terminate his life. The most frequent methods of suicide include poisoning, hanging, and self-immolation.
Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code makes both attempted suicide and suicide assistance illegal. This section states:
“Attempt to commit suicide, 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 remains in place, the Mental Healthcare Act,2017 (enacted in July 2018) has restricted its applicability. The relevant provision of the new statute reads as follows:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of 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”.
India has retained much of the colonial legal legacy in its penal jurisdiction. But the fact is that the British Parliament decriminalised attempts to suicide in 1961 through the Suicide Act.
There are two camps: those who push for penal provisions and those who continue to demand decriminalisation of suicide.
Those who favour the penal provision generally quote the judgement in Gian Kaur vs the state of Punjab where the court held that 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 the right to life.
On the other hand, those who argue that the act of attempting suicide should not be criminalised, quote the Maruti Shripati Dubal Vs State of Maharashtra. In this judgment, the Bombay High Court declared section 309 unconstitutional. It said, ‘for example, freedom of speech and expression includes freedom not to speak and to 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 the right to live…will also include a right not to leave or not to be forced to live.’
Returning to the decriminalisation of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which prescribes the penal provision for attempting suicide. The proposed amendment proposes that if a person suffers from any mental trauma or disease, he or she should be provided reformative therapy rather than a deterrent punishment of “simple imprisonment for a term that may extend to one year [or with fine, or with both]”. This law solely applies to people suffering from mental illnesses. There is a presumption of severe stress in case of an attempt to suicide.
But what if extreme stress is not proven? Then we must change from penalising “attempts to suicide” to making such cases medico-legal and then giving psychological/mental treatment/support to the individual afflicted.
Since, this issue necessitates a reformative approach, in my opinion, therefore, requires a long-term solution, such as repealing it.
I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.
If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.
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