Law · Public Policy

Decriminalisation of Section 309 of IPC: A Welcome Step

The Government of India has ultimately struck off “attempt to commit suicide” as under Section 309 from the Indian Penal Code according to which “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” on the recommendations of the Law Commission which was long overdue. The British who actually drafted this legislation before 1947 updated their own suicidal laws several decades ago but India continued to be in the shackles of this archaic piece of law. Nevertheless, with the recent step taken by the government to decriminalise attempt to suicide, the Indian Government finally did some justice to millions of people who are in the dire need of counselling and care rather than stringent punishment. An attempt to suicide is, therefore, more of a manifestation of a diseased condition of mind which nowhere deserves to be dealt with harsh punishment. The people who go to the extent of taking such a drastic step of ending their lives suffer from chronic depression and mental trauma which needs to be combated and not aggravated further. Thus, the person attempting to end his/her life should be considered as a victim rather an offender in the eyes of law.

While making recommendations on this subject, the Law Commission pondered over various considerations out of which the pertinent one was with respect to the fact that Section 309 of the IPC is violative of Article 21 of the Constitution of India which enjoins that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law. In fact, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court in P. Rathinam v. Union of India[1] held that the right to life of which Article 21 speaks of can be said to bring under its ambit the right not to live a forced life, and therefore, section 309 violates Article 21. This decision was, however, subsequently overruled in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab[2]by a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, holding that Article 21 cannot be construed to include within it the ‘right to die’ as a part of the fundamental right guaranteed therein, and therefore, it cannot be said that section 309 is violative of Article 21. The Supreme Court in Gian Kaur focused on constitutionality of section 309. It did not go into the wisdom of retaining or continuing the same in the statute.[3] Thus, the Law Commission eventually came to the conclusion that irrespective of its constitutionality or unconstitutionality, this law is inhumane and therefore should be scrapped off. This recommendation was finally taken into account by the Centre and it decided to delete this Section from the Statute Book.

This noble step taken by the government is being welcomed by majority of the public including the police, activists, legal and medical fraternity. For the police, it would reduce the unnecessary number of FIRs being lodged for the suicide attempts which is not a crime in substance. There are rather, humongous number of other rampant crimes which need their immediate attention. Therefore, the Police would be able to give greater value to the grave crimes without wasting their time in conducting inspections with respect to matters of suicide attempts. Apart from the police, even the medical fraternity seem to be delighted with this step because the doctors to whom such cases come have to mandatorily require the medico-legal process to be conducted with respect to the suicide attempt even before admitting one to the hospital and beginning their treatment which causes undue delay in the treatment process and leads to unnecessary deaths or other ailments which would otherwise would have been cured. This puts a stigma on the medical fraternity as a whole but with the step of decriminalization of suicide attempt, this stigma can be expected to be removed in the due course of time. The legal fraternity comprising of the Advocates and Judges are also happy with this step as they thought it was inhumane to imprison or impose a fine on a person who is suffering through mental trauma and needs to be dealt with compassion and sympathy rather than placing them behind the bars in the company of the offenders who have committed serious crimes which would further degrade their mental status and put them into depression. Lastly, it would also allow the activists working towards this cause to gather data on the number of people who attempt suicide in order to plan services for them as, at present, they are often under-reported or reported as accidents. Such steps would help in providing the authentic data to the government as well and better practices could be adopted to rehabilitate them and help them to restore their faith in life.

Apart from the fact that it has been welcomed by majority of the states in the country and also by so many groups of people as stated above, there are five States in the Country viz., Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Sikkim and Delhi who have opposed this move on several grounds. According to the State of Bihar, repealing of this Section would benefit the “suicide bombers” and terrorists who consume “potassium cyanide” as there would be no deterrent law for them. The State of Bihar does not want the entire section to be repealed rather they want certain modifications in this Section in regard to the suicide attacks, whereas, Punjab said the absence of any deterrent law will encourage farmer suicide, and an attempt should be made to rehabilitate such victims. Madhya Pradesh opposed it on the ground that hardly any arrests are made in such cases, and that this will encourage people to sit on fast unto death. Sikkim also said that repealing the section would lead to law and order problems. Delhi partially opposed the move, and said such people should be sent to authorized medical centres for proper care. Delhi also suggested that the police should be able to book people who try to kill themselves in public by ways such as self-immolation under other sections.[4] However, the government with the support and assent of 22 States and 7 Union Territories have repealed Section 302 thereby decriminalising attempt to suicide. Besides these States, there are certain people as well who have dissenting opinions on this subject and who think that it might lead to unprecedented increase in the number of suicides owing to the lack of deterrence but this opinion lacks a strong basis because the people who wish to end their lives would anyway do it whether or not there exists a law prohibiting them from doing it but the significant fact to be considered is that though this step might not decrease the number of suicides in the country but it would definitely not aggravate the mental trauma and sufferings of a person who failed at ending one’s life. Thus, decriminalization of attempt to suicide is a fair and reasonable step that the Centre has ultimately taken.

[1] AIR 1994 SC 1844

[2] AIR 1996 SC 946

[3]210th Law commission Report, http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report210.pdf

[4]Vijaita Singh ,New Delhi, Posted: December 11, 2014 1:56 am, http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/five-states-oppose-bid-to-decriminalise-suicide-attempt/

 

About the Author

Shakha JhaShakha Jha is a IV Year law student pursuing B.A. LL.B. from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. She is keenly interested in researching on varied subjects. She also holds a diploma in Intellectual Property Laws and has authored four papers. She is presently working as a Research Associate with Alexis Department of Public Policy.

One thought on “Decriminalisation of Section 309 of IPC: A Welcome Step

  1. Please let me know When was the judgement over decriminalization of section 309 of IPC passed and by which Judge?
    ASAP

Leave a Reply