Decriminalization of Suicide Laws

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This post is written by Simran Bhaskar, a 3rd year B.A., LL.B. specialization in Energy Law Student from UPES, Dehradun.

A national strategy for suicide prevention is under discussion at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the psychiatrist said, adding that the strategy should remove the confusion surrounding Article 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) according to which attempted suicide continues to be a criminal offense. Attempting suicide is no more a crime in India and there will be no more electric shocks for mentally ill children, as per the new Mental Healthcare Act 2017 notified by the Health Ministry on May 29, a year after it was passed. While the section says that attempt to commit suicide is punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend up to one year, section 115 of the MCHA, 2017 states: “…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 (Section 309 of IPC ).”

“Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 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,” says the Act. As per the Act, the government will have the duty to provide care, treatment, and rehabilitation to the person, who attempts suicide and has severe stress, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.[1]

The 2017 Act, which clearly defines mental illness, replaced the Mental Health Act 1987. Aimed at transforming the mental healthcare regime in the country, it is enacted to harmonize India’s laws with the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol. The treatment and rehabilitation cost for persons with mental illness living below the poverty line, even without the possession of a BPL card, or those who are homeless would be free of any charge at all mental health establishments run or funded by the appropriate government.[2]

Further, the Act bans electric shock as a method of treatment for mentally ill children. It also bans electric shocks for adults with mental illness without the use of muscle relaxants and anesthesia. The sterilization of men and women as a treatment for mental illness is also prohibited. And, it also prohibits tying mentally ill persons with chains.

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 “Every person with a mental illness shall have a right to live with dignity… There shall be no discrimination on any basis including gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion, culture, caste, social or political beliefs, class or disability,” says the Act as it tries to bring the mentally ill at par with the physically ill in terms of provision of healthcare services.The Act also ensures the right of the mentally ill to live in, be a part of, and not be segregated from society. He will not continue to remain in a mental health establishment merely because he does not have a family, is not accepted by his family, is homeless, or due to the absence of community-based facilities.[3]

 The notification has been widely welcomed with the expectation that with adequate awareness, it will ensure the mentally ill with the right to live with dignity would increase conversation about mental healthcare and would help remove the stigma associated with mental illness.

India, however, continues to have the dubious distinction of recording the highest number of suicides in the world, contributing to 34 % of all suicides[4]. She further added that the country has the highest rate of suicide among young women between 19 to 29 years. The National Crime Records Bureau recorded 1,33,623 suicides in 2015.

 The former director-general of West Bengal and now State Security Advisor said that while the rate of conviction in usual crimes in which the police file charge sheets is around 10 %, in cases dealing with Section 309 of IPC, the conviction is as high as 30 % because of the “clinching evidence” available in these cases.

The State’s advocate general Kishore Dutta maintained that Section 309 of IPC has been made ineffective but remains in law books. Mr. Dutta said that whenever a patient who has attempted suicide is taken to a hospital, the first duty of the hospital is to provide him or her medical intervention and then inform the police. Section 309 of IPC also puts a burden on the police for whom the only time this law comes to use is “when politicians go on a hunger strike”, even as there are plenty of other laws for such cases.

[1] http://www.indianjpsychiatry.org/article.asp?issn=0019-5545;year=2019;volume=61;issue=10;spage=750;epage=755;aulast=Vadlamani

[2] http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/1081/Crime-of-Attempt-to-commit-Suicide.html

[3] https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/government-decriminalises-suicide-notifies-new-law-1861575

[4] https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/health/ipc-law-on-suicide-is-redundant-say-experts/article30397121.ece

Image from https://www.newsclick.in/india-has-highest-suicide-rate-southeast-asian-region-says-study

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