Decriminalization of Attempt to Suicide in India

Under section 309 of IPC, suicide was not a crime but ‘attempt to suicide’ was punishable. The object behind such a law was that all persons are subjects of state and it is the duty of state to protect all its citizens. Hence, no person was allowed to take his or her life. Secondly, article 21 only provides for right to life and does not include right to die. The essential ingredient to attract this provision is that the commission of suicide must be intentional and voluntary. In the case, Emperor v. Dwarka Poonia 1912 BOM HC, accused jumped into the well to hide from police officer and later came out. He wouldn’t be convicted under section 309 IPC as no intention to commit suicide was present.

            Similarly, going on a hunger strike to pressurize authorities would not amount to attempt to commission of suicide as an intention to kill oneself was absent. However, in the case Ram Sunder Dubey v. State, court said that if a person openly says that he would not have food until death and there is an imminent danger of death ensuing, then, he could be held guilty under section 309 IPC.

            In a series of cases, constitutional validity of section 309 IPC was tested. In P Rathinam v. Union of India, court said that punishing a person who had attempted to commit suicide would mean further traumatizing him just because he had failed to commit suicide. Due to the sense of cruelty and irrationality present in the provision, it was effaced from the statute. Later, in Gian Kaur v. The State of Punjab, the Rathinam case was overruled and it was held that section 309 is not violative of articles 14, 19 and 21. Court specifically said that right to die does not come under the scope of right to life as suicide is an unnatural termination of life which is inconsistent with the principles under article 21.

            Currently, the section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 states that if someone commits suicide, it will be presumed that they were in severe stress and no punishment would be provided to such person. In fact, such person would be provided care, treatment and rehabilitation by the state. This statute is a pretty progressive law which brought a huge change in the previous legal position. It is extremely unfair to punish a person again who has been suffering mental pain.

However, I do believe that there could be exceptions to this rule. A hunger strike is like ‘coercion’ to the state. A state may listen to the person who is on hunger strike because it wants to protect his life. However, this would be against constitutional morality as the state is not listening to the person because of the matter in question but because it wants to save lives. Hence, such hunger strikes should not find a place under section 115. The person on hunger strike should not be severely punished but some guidelines must be framed to deal with such hunger strikes so that it is not practiced casually to make the state agree with them.

Aishwarya Says:

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.


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In the year 2021, we wrote about 1000 Inspirational Women In India, in the year 2022, we would be featuring 5000 Start Up Stories.

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