-By Preyoshi Bhattacharjee
Suicide basically means killing of oneself. Suicide is not an offence because if a person successfully commits suicide, he or she cannot be punished. But an unsuccessful attempt does amount to an offence under section 309 of IPC. When a person abets the commitment of suicide that is also an offence which punishable under Section 305 and 306 of IPC.
Attempt To Commit Suicide
As mentioned above suicide is not an offence per se, because a person who has already cannot be punished. But an attempt to commit suicide is punishable under Section 309 of IPC. It states that
“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 presence of mens rea is essential for the offence of attempt to suicide. There should be an intention to kill oneself, if not then a person cannot be held guilty of the offence. In the case of Emperor v. Dwarka Poonja[] the court did not held the accused guilty of the charge of attempt to suicide. Because there was no evidence that the accused jumped into the well to commit suicide. He claimed that he did so in order to avoid the police. Mens rea could not be proved, he was free of the charge.
Thus, if a person hurts himself or herself without an intention to die, he cannot be held to be guilty under Section 309 just for that. Hunger strikes are generally to force the government to fulfill some demand and not to kill oneself, so, it is not an attempt to commit suicide. But where the parson fasting has reached a stage where further fasting can lead to death, then he can be held guilty of attempt to suicide.[]
The constitutional validity of Section 309 has been a topic of discussion for long. Even the Supreme Court in the case of P Rathinam v. Union of India[] held that
“We state that Section 309 of the Penal Code deserves to be effaced from the statute book to humanise our penal laws. It is a cruel and irrational provision, and it may result in punishing a person again (doubly) who has suffered agony and would be undergoing ignominy because of his failure to commit suicide. Then an act of suicide cannot be said to be against religion, morality or public policy, and an act of attempted suicide has no baneful effect on society. Further, suicide or attempt to commit it causes no harm to others, because of which State's interference with the personal liberty of the persons concerned is not called for. We, therefore, hold that Section 309 violates Article 21, and so, it is void. May it be said that the view taken by us would advance not only the cause of humanisation, which is a need of the day, but of globalisation also, as by effacing Section 309, we would be attuning this part of our criminal law to the global wavelength.”
But the same decision was reversed in the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab[] and the constitutional validity of Section 309 was upheld, by indicating that Article 21 includes the right to life, which in itself is a natural right. But suicide is an unnatural ending of life and thus, is not included in Article 21.
Thus, Section 309 is still held to be constitutionally valid. But this section has received a lot of criticism from a number of people. Doesn’t it seem to be painfully paradoxical that a person who has already gone through so much and has not harmed anybody will have to go through the harsh punishment? A person who is already so depressed or agonized will have to go through the torture of prison again will it give him or her any further hope to live. It does seem to be arbitrary. So the parliament has without repealing the section has decriminalised the attempt to suicide.
Mental Healthcare Act, 2017
This act is an act of the Parliament which was passed on 7th April 2017 and came into force from July 7, 2018. The bill was introduced in the parliament in 2013. This is a very recent development. This act has not repealed Section 309 IPC and the section still exists. But Section 115 of the act has diluted the Section 309 of IPC and it states that-
(1) 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.
(2) The appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.
But this section is not applicable on all the suicide cases. The cases where the accused have faced severe stress will be the cases covered under this section. This section of the ac provides the remedial procedure for the person who has attempted to commit suicide. The person are rehabilitated, they are given treatment through various modes like- counseling, medication etc. the act provides it to be the duty of the government to rehabilitate the person. Thus, the attempt to suicide has now been decriminalised.
Abetment Of Suicide
Abetment of suicide is punished under Section 305 and 306 of IPC. Section 306 states that
“If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
There are certain essential of this Section and those are
1. The deceased should have committed suicide
2. The accused should have abetted or instigated her to commit suicide
3. The involvement of the accused should be direct.
The word abetment has been defined in Section 107 of IPC as follows
A person abets the doing of a thing, who
First, Instigates any person to do that thing; or
Secondly.—Engages with one or more other person or persons in any conspiracy for the doing of that thing, if an act or illegal omission takes place in pursuance of that conspiracy, and in order to the doing of that thing; or
Thirdly.—Intentionally aids, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of that thing.
Explanation 1.—A person who, by willful misrepresentation, or by willful concealment of a material fact which he is bound to disclose, voluntarily causes or procures, or attempts to cause or procure, a thing to be done, is said to instigate the doing of that thing.
Explanation 2.—Whoever, either prior to or at the time of the commission of an act, does anything in order to facilitate the commission of that act, and thereby facilitates the commission thereof, is said to aid the doing of that act.
Neither a mere suggestion and nor a mere casual remark suggesting a suicide or to commit suicide amounts to abetment to commit suicide.[]In order to make a person liable as an abettor it is necessary that he should have done something more than remaining a mute spectator. But sometimes it is conceivable that even the person’s mere presence as spectator may encourage a person to do a deed, which she might have otherwise refrain form. In such cases, the question, whether the mere presence amounted to intentionally aiding another will have to be decided.[]
In the case of Gurbachan Singh v. Satpal Singh[] the deceased, a newly married girl, died of burn injuries. There was sufficient evidence about the harassment and torture for bringing insufficient dowry. She was also accused of carrying an illegitimate child. Due to all of this, the girl committed suicide. The court held the accused guilty of the abetment to suicide, as the provocations which were given to her grave and serious enough to led her to commit suicide.
There should be a proximate link between the act of commitment of suicide and the abetment, if there is no proximity between these two, and then the accused cannot be held liable for abetment to suicide.[]
In the case of Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab[] the Supreme Court held that section 306 is only applicable where a person has successfully committed suicide, only an attempt would not be sufficient to impose the liability.
However, mere unhappiness in matrimonial house will not make the other party guilty if a person commits suicide. Encouraging the widow to commit sati has been held to be abetment of suicide. In the case of Tej Singh v. State[], the accused were the members of the crowd, who had joined the funeral procession from the house of the deceased to the cremation ground. The widow of the deceased was walking in front of the procession with an intention to commit sati. The accused started shouting ‘sati mata ki jai’. As the procession proceeded the people surrounded police so that they could not enter and prevent the woman from committing sati. The woman was successful in committing sati. The Court held that all those persons who joined the procession were aiding the widow in committing sati.
Presumption As To Abetment
Section 113A of the Indian evidence act was inserted in the act by the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 1983 and it lays down the presumption of abetment. It states that
“Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married women: When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstance s of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.”
This section only deals with the presumption of abetment of suicide by married women, when she has committed suicide within seven years of marriage and she was subjected to cruelty. The court presumes such abetment and the burden of proof is on the husband and his relatives to prove that there was no such abetment. The presumption is discretionary on the part of the court
Thus, before the coming up of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 the attempt to suicide was an offence and now it has been decriminalised. This is a great development in the criminal law of the country, which was enacted in 1860, there was surely a need of reform in the act.
1) (1912) 14 BOMLR 146
2) Ram Sundar Dubey v. State AIR 1962 All 262, (1962) Cr Lj 697 (All)
3) AIR 1994 SC 1884, (1994) 3 SCC 394
4) AIR 1996 SC 946, (1996) 2 SCC 648
5) Ganga Debi v. State(Delhi Administration) (1985) 28 Del LT 35
6) Krushanahari Debnath v. State (1995) Cr Lj 3049 (Ori)
7) AIR 1990 SC 209
8) M. Mohan v. State; (2011) 3 SCC 626
9) AIR 2001 SC 2826
10) AIR 1958 Raj 169, (1958) Cr Lj 967 (Raj)