This article is written by Aabha Bara, a law student of Amity University, Chhattisgarh.
Since the last two decades this topic is subject of lots of discussions and controversy. From the very first case P. Rathinam v. Union of India and Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. In the first case the division bench of two judges of supreme court had held section 309 as it ultra vires the fundamental right of article 21 of the constitution of India. And the second case has overruled the first case which was said by the division bench of three judges of the supreme court that neither it violates article 21 nor article 14 of the constitution. This provision has been recommended to decriminalize in the 42nd and 210th report by the Law Commission of India. But the provision is still based on the ruling of the Gian Kaur case. WHO reports that worldwide, more people die by suicide than by any other form of violent death, including homicide and terrorist attack.
The definition of suicide differs from person to person, as there is no universal definition being provided for the act. “Suicide is the intentional tendency to take one’s own life” says ‘Erwin Ringel.’ Also, “the decision to commit suicide is more often prompted by an inner desire to stop living than by a wish to die. Suicide is a determined alternative to facing a problem that seems to be too big to handle alone” says ‘Walter Hurst.’ Section 309, of Indian Penal Code 1860, states “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.” The provision doesn’t provide any explanation of suicide. If we refer to the case of Clift v. Schwabe, “to commit suicide is to do a ‘voluntary act’ having the purpose to destroy his own life, being ‘conscious of the consequences’ and at the same time to have the sufficient will to commit the particular act.” Before “suicide” became part of the vernacular, such terms as self-destruction, self-killing, self-murder, and self-slaughter were used to describe “the act.” But Today, the definition of suicide is dependent on the context in which it is used-medical, legal, or administrative perspective. The impact of suicide is widespread, immediately affecting between 8 and 10 people besides the suicidee. Thus, the number of people who feel the impact of a death by suicide is large, even by WHO standards. Moreover, in other countries like united states of America, they use the term ‘died by suicide’ as here in India we use the term, ‘committed suicide’. The reason is that in other countries suicide has been decriminalized, therefore a person who a commits crime is known to be a criminal. Hence, the term ‘committed suicide’ and ‘attempt to commit suicide’ is not used. As the world has taken the shape of modernization the human mind has been advanced in the aspect of technology as well as the way of thinking with overall perspective.
Is it fair to give punishment for survivors? Or is it fair to punish them?
The Supreme Court’s stand on attempt to commit suicide was categorically overruled in the case of Smt. Gian Kaur. The court held that right to die cannot be construed from right to life under Article 21. The court stated, “Right to life is a natural right embodied in Article 21 but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life and, therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the concept of right to life.
With respect and in all humility, we find no similarity in the nature of the other rights, such as the right to ‘freedom of speech’ etc. to provide a comparable basis to hold that the ‘right to life’ also includes the ‘right to die’. With respect, the comparison is inapposite, for the reason indicated in the context of Article 21. The decisions relating to other fundamental rights wherein the absence of compulsion to exercise a right was held to be included within the exercise of that right, are not available to support the view taken in P. Rathinam qua Article 21.
Clause 126 of the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1972, was introduced in the Council of States provided for the omission of section 309. Bill was passed in the year 1978 but as the House of the People was dissolved in 1979, the Bill, though passed by the Council of States, lapsed.
Looking at the offence of attempting to commit suicide, it has been observed by an English writer:
“It seems a monstrous procedure to inflict further suffering on even a single individual who has already found life so unbearable, his chances of happiness so slender, that he has been willing to face pain and death in order to cease living. That those for whom life is altogether bitter should be subjected to further bitterness and degradation seems perverse legislation.”
Including India around five countries considers suicide as a crime and accordingly have to pay penalty for it. Those countries are Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and India. Many countries such as united states of America, England, the whole Europe, some south American nations, and neighbouring Sri Lanka have decriminalized attempt to commit suicide. These countries provide medical support to the survivors and understands the importance of family and societal support. As a result, they did not even send them to prison for short period of time.
More than 90% of people throughout the world who kill themselves are mentally ill. Suicide is a serious global public health issue. It is among the top twenty leading causes of death worldwide, with more deaths due to suicide than malaria, breast cancer, or war and homicide. Close to 8,00,000 people die by suicide every year. Many have their own opinions, but we stick into the decision of hon’ble court. We have social document in the society which governs the situations and happenings in the society, known as constitution of India. We can’t understand its nature if we don’t understand its chief characteristics. Similarly, we can’t assume or predict what the survivor would have been gone through his life that he attempts to commit suicide. Decriminalizing section 309 of IPC would have its own pros and cons. Pros will be for the unsuccessful survivors and their family. At this stage the survivor wants mental health care and needs psychiatrists rather than being behind the bars. Because during this stage the survivor wants much love, care and counselling. As cons are obvious that the no. of attempt to suicidal cases would get increased. But by conducting counselling for them in every city across the state, and bringing those survivors in front of them who are the real fighters. The person at this stage wants to get a ray of light of hope to continue his life and the ones who could understand his problems.