Parth Jaisinghani ~ Symboisis Law School, Hyderabad
Suicide is self-injury with the desire to end one’s life that does not result in death. According to the World Health Organization, around eight lakh, people die every year because of suicide, and up to 25 times as many people attempt suicide. There was also a report, by WHO in the year 2019, which said that “globally 10-20% of adolescents experience severe mental health conditions which remain underdiagnosed and undertreated” the same report also said that suicide is the third most leading cause of death. Himachal Pradesh High Court recently propounded to activate suicide helpline within 3 weeks as the number of cases of suicide was rising in this pandemic.
On Sep.10, 2020 a bench headed by Chief Justice S.A.Bobde made remarks on sec.309 of IPC. This section states, “Any person who tries to commit suicide will be punished with simple imprisonment up to 1 year or fine or both.” Now, when we read sec.115 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 it states that – “decriminalization of suicide”. Now, the conflict arises- which section is going to overpower the other one? This clash was seen in a case where a person tried to commit suicide, who threw himself in a cage in the zoo. The case was presided over by a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice S.A.Bobde along with Justices A.S.Bopanna, and V. Ramasubramanian. In addition, they issued a plea to the Attorney General of India regarding the same. Further to resolve this conflict they have appointed Senior Advocate A.N.S Nadkarni as an Amicus Curiae to this case on the request of animal rights activist Sangeeta Dogra.
Sec.115(1) of the MHCA,2017 states that any person who attempts to commit suicide is not guilty unless proved and he is suffering from severe stress and mental pain so he shall not be tried under Sec.309 of IPC. About this, different courts had a different opinion for example Delhi and Bombay High Court have opined section 309 of IPC as unconstitutional whereas Andhra Pradesh High Court in 1988 has upheld its validity. However, this clash came to the Supreme Court in the case of P.Rathinam vs. Union of India, where the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. However, this decision was later overruled by a larger bench of the Supreme Court. Also in the case of Gian Kaur vs The State of Punjab, it was said that the “right to die is not included in the right to life under article 21 of the Indian Constitution.” But after 20 years in Common Cause vs Union of India, Justice DY Chandrachud who had also allowed passive euthanasia said we have to decriminalize the suicide in the future for domestic and international development. He said if a person commits suicide that means he is having mental stress so he should not be tried under sec. 309 of IPC. Sec. 115 of MHCA, 2017 makes a person victim rather than an offender. This section tells how a person should be treated in society. The person who commits suicide needs care and rehabilitation rather than a penal sanction.
Law Commission of India on Suicide
In the 42nd report of the Law Commission of India, 1971 Sec.309 was declared as “harsh and unjustifiable” and took note of the Suicide Act, 1961 of British Parliament where its attempt was not made an offence. However, in the 156th report, it was retained. They said assisted suicide and assisted attempts to commit suicide are made punishable for society’s interest. But later, a study was done by Justice A.R. Lakshman who chaired Law Commission and said: “abetment to commit suicide must be punishable, and its attempt to commit suicide must be omitted in IPC.” They observed that just because the person is suffering from mental illness punishing him is not justified; rather, he should be given treatment and care. Also, this section is inhuman irrespective of its being constitutional or unconstitutional.” removal of this section will help in the betterment of society. In March 2011, the Supreme Court too recommended to Parliament that it should consider the feasibility of deleting the section.
From where did it all start?
This section was originally introduced in the British Era and initially had punishment as imprisonment. Later in 1882, the provision of the fine was added up. After a while, in 42nd Law Commission Report, A bill was passed seeking omission by Rajya Sabha, but the bill was not able to make it through Lok Sabha as the house was dissolved. In 2017, the Mental Healthcare Act was enacted, which effectively minimized the effect of sec.309 of IPC. It states that if a person commits suicide, so he is only liable if he is proven guilty otherwise not.
Furthermore, in the case of Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India, ustice N.F. Nariman said “sec.309 is an inhuman act for over 150 years and it’s good that sec. 115 of MHCA makes its power limited as it is inhuman and unjust to punish someone for committing suicide.” Moreover, it is the government’s duty to spread awareness of this act and treat a person as a victim rather than an offender. Whoever commits suicide should be provided with proper care, treatment, and rehabilitation to reduce the risk of that person committing suicide again.
Any person who commits suicide should be treated as a victim rather than an offender in the eyes of the law. The government should also organize camps to spread awareness of this section, as still now most of the people of our country are unaware of this section. Any person who attempts to commit suicide but fails in that should be treated properly by society as well as by law. He should not be secluded by society and should not be treated as a victim; rather should he should be treated as a normal human being only. It is also necessary for the government to make people aware of suicide helpline numbers so that whosoever is having any suicidal thoughts can take help. Hence, any person who attempts to commit suicide should be treated as a victim rather than an offender as it is morally as well as legally wrong to punish such a person.
 World Health Organization and Krug, E.G., 2002. World report on violence and health. 2002.
 The Indian Penal Code, 1860, § 309, No. 45, Acts of Parliament, 1860(India).
 The Mental Health Care Act, 2017, §115, No. 10, Acts of Parliament, 2017(India).
 HASTING, supra note 5.
 P.Rathinam v. Union Of India, (1994) 3 SCC 394(India)
 Smt. Gian Kaur v. The State Of Punjab, AIR 1996 Puj 648(India).
 HASTING, supra note 6.
 LAW COMMISSION OF INDIA, REPORT NO. 42: THE INDIAN PENAL CODE 43 (1971).
 LAW COMMISSION OF INDIA, REPORT NO. 156: THE INDIAN PENAL CODE 123(1977).
 HASTING, supra note 13.
 Navtej Singh Johar v. Union of India, (2018) 10 SCC 1(India).