In no place does the Indian Penal Code, 1860, define the term “suicide.” It is a self-inflicted or self-intentional human act to stop (ending). Simply put, it is an act of self-murder or self-killing. The act of intentionally taking one’s own life or taking one’s own life is known as suicide. Suicide is defined as an intentional effort to take one’s own life. Mens Rea is thus one of the main components of this crime.
According to Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, attempting suicide is a crime that carries a sentence, and anybody who survives the attempt will suffer the consequences.
According to the law, “Anyone who tries suicide or commits any act that contributes to the commission of such an offence will be punished with simple imprisonment for a time that may not exceed one year or with fine, or with both.”
The following are the key components of section 309 of the IPC:
1. The individual had to have tried to kill themselves but failed.
2. The endeavor must be made on purpose and not accidentally or by error.
The Indian Penal Code, 1860 establishes an offence for attempting to commit suicide under Section 309. It should be mentioned that while suicide itself is not a crime under the Indian Penal Code, 1860, an attempt to commit suicide is now sanctioned by Section 309. The latter was done while taking into account Mens Rea, one of the key components of the aforementioned crime. The general public has a number of misconceptions regarding Section 309 of the 1860 Code, and many of them think that it has already been repealed by the legislature and the Supreme Court of India. Few people think that this clause should be decriminalized, despite the fact that some have declared it to be unconstitutional. In its 42nd Report (1971), the Indian Law Commission recommended repealing Section 309 because it is “severe and unjust.” After the aforementioned Law Commission’s Report was made public, the Government of India agreed with the recommendation, and the Rajya Sabha was presented with the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1972, which repealed Section 309. The Rajya Sabha adopted the Bill in November 1978 after it had undergone minor amendments and had been submitted to a Joint Committee of both Houses. When the Sixth Lok Sabha was dissolved in 1979, the Bill was still pending, and as a result, it was no longer in effect.
In India, the main reasons of suicide
According to the NCRB Report 2020, “family issues” and “sickness” accounted for 33.6 percent and 18.0 percent of all suicides in 2020, respectively, and were the main causes of these deaths. Drug abuse/addiction (6.0%), marital problems (5.0%), extramarital affairs (4.4%), bankruptcy or debt (3.4%), unemployment (2.3%), test failure (1.4%), professional/career problems (1.2%), and poverty were some of the other causes of suicide (1.2 percent). A total of 10,677 persons who worked in the agriculture sector committed themselves in 2020, accounting for 7.0% of the country’s 1,53,052 suicide victims (5,579 farmers and cultivators and 5,098 agricultural labourers). In all, 5,579 farmer/cultivator suicides occurred, including 5,335 men and 244 women. Of the 5,098 suicides by agricultural labourers in 2020, 4,621 were men and 477 were women.
Constitutionality of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
It is necessary to consider certain important judgments rendered by courts all throughout India in order to comprehend the validity of Section 309 of the Code of 1860, as has been stated below.
Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra (1986)
In the case of Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court first considered whether Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, was constitutional (1986). The following justifications have been presented by the Court in support of its judgement to invalidate Section 309:
1-Both the desire to die and the right to die are typical human feelings. Determine the person’s deliberate choice, regardless of the events that led to them ending or terminating their life. The idea that the desire to terminate one’s life is not natural is inaccurate because it conflates the circumstances that motivate or urge someone to commit suicide with the act itself. Making distinctions is crucial as well between a person’s death due to an unnatural cause and one due to a natural cause. From starvation to strangulation, there are many unconventional ways to end one’s life. However, the motivation for using the measures is not an abnormal one.
2-It is not typical for people to try or commit suicide. It’s an amazing incident, a strange personality trait, or an odd occurrence. Just because something is unusual doesn’t make it abnormal or unnatural. Loss of all senses or the desire to enjoy the pleasures of any sense, unfathomably cruel or unbearable conditions of life making it painful to live, a sense of shame or disgrace or a need to defend one’s honor, or a complete loss of interest in life or a sense of emptiness are examples of mental illnesses and imbalances. Socially feared diseases are another example.
3-In particular, if the provision of Section 309 is criminal in character; it cannot be justified by the difficulties of providing a persuasive explanation. Section 309 stands arbitrary and in violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution since there is no logical definition or even standards to distinguish the criminal from the civil behavior. As is well noted, arbitrariness and equality are rivals. Since all suicide attempts are treated equally, regardless of the circumstances in which they are committed, Section 309’s provision goes against the equality outlined in Article 14 as well. When it is recognized that some individuals dedicate themselves to fleeing the harsh realities of life, which constitute a form of punishment the section’s arbitrary nature is made more clear to them at all times. For them, the reprieve from such a mundane existence is actually a blessing. Despite this, a society that is either unable or disinterested in improving a person’s living circumstances seeks to punish that individual for trying to assist or deliver themselves.
4-When the provisions of Section 309 and Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 are compared; the discriminatory nature of the former is very evident. In order to differentiate between culpable homicide that constitutes murder and culpable homicide that does not, the legislation has gone to considerable pains to define murder and has set up distinct sentencing guidelines for the two. In contrast, Section 309 treats everyone equally, regardless of the circumstances surrounding their suicide attempt. Given that murder is a more serious crime with wide-ranging consequences for other members of society, this seems strange.
5-It is difficult to understand how penalizing someone who have tried to commit suicide can fulfill the goal of the sentence imposed—which is to discourage other suicide attempts. Mentally ill individuals who attempt suicide require psychiatric treatment rather than confinement in individual cells, where their condition is likely to deteriorate and result in more sickness. Nursing institutions, not prisons, are needed to keep someone from trying suicide again if they are suffering from severe medical conditions, incurable diseases, torture, or a deteriorating physical condition brought on by old age or disability.
6-The Indian Penal Code, 1860, Section 309, was declared unconstitutional by the Court because it violated Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996)
Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996) was decided by the Supreme Court’s constitution bench, which clarified the legitimacy of Section 309 of the Code of 1860 by ruling that the right to life guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution does not encompass the right to life or to be slain. The following are the observations of the Supreme Court:
1-The sanctity of life is important and should not be overlooked. By no means, under any circumstances, can the extinction of life be interpreted to include the preservation of life, which is guaranteed by Article 21. The Court believed it was difficult to read Article 21 in a way that included the right to die as a basic right guaranteed therein, regardless of the philosophical basis for enabling someone to terminate their life by suicide. Although Article 21 recognizes the “right to life” as a natural right, suicide is an unnatural way to end or extinguish life and is therefore incompatible with the concept of the right to life.
2-In order to provide meaning and depth to Article 21, the word “life” has been construed to signify life with human dignity. Any aspect of life that gives it dignity may be read into it, but not one that destroys it and makes life impossible to continue, ultimately eroding the right itself. The right to life and the right to death are fundamentally incompatible, just as life and death are incompatible. The Supreme Court also ruled that there is no necessity to impose a minimum term for the crime of suicide attempt. The decision to impose a fine or an imprisonment is a discretionary one. These factors were taken into account, and the Apex Court determined that Section 309 the constitutionality of does not exclude its legality.
Many readers would disagree with the argument put forward, even if others may agree with the judgement rendered by the Apex Court in the 1996 case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. It is noteworthy to note that the general population, along with a number of police personnel, are unaware of the terms of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. In order to successfully apply the aforementioned regulation, it is necessary to launch a campaign to inform people of the legislation. Life is a gift that God bestows upon us. The right to death is not regarded under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as a component of the right to life. With the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 being in effect, the effects of Section 309 IPC have been greatly mitigated, and attempts to commit suicide are now essentially only punished under certain circumstances.
LB A, “Examine the Constitutional Validity of Section 309 of I.P.C. (Attempt to Commit Suicide) in the Light of the Judgment of the Supreme Court….” (Examine the constitutional validity of Section 309 of I.P.C. (Attempt to commit suicide) in the light of the judgment of the Supreme Court…., July 21, 2021) <https://www.legalbites.in/constitutional-validity-of-section-309/> accessed November 5, 2022
Kumar R, “Suicide Under the Indian Constitution and IPC” (WritingLaw, December 6, 2021) <https://www.writinglaw.com/suicide-under-indian-laws/> accessed November 5, 2022
“Constitutional Validity of Section 309 of Indian Penal Code – Best Law Firm in Gurgaon” (Best Law Firm in Gurgaon, September 30, 2020) <https://advocatetanwar.com/constitutional-validity-of-section-309-of-indian-penal-code/> accessed November 5, 2022
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