Law · Society

Suicide: An offence in India

“Suicide is a form of murder – premeditated murder. It is not something you do the first time you think of doing it. It takes getting used to. And you need the means, the opportunity, and the motive. A successful suicide demands good organization and a cool head, both of which are usually incompatible with the suicidal state of mind.”

-Sussnna Kaysen.

INTRODUCTION

The word “suicide” is taken from the modern Latin word Suicida “act of suicide”, but it is derived from the word suicidium sui caedere, suicidium- “person who commits suicide” + sui- “of oneself” + caedere- “kill.” It is an act in which a person intentionally causing his own death.

According to a French sociologist Emile Durkheim, “The term suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result.”

TYPES OF SUICIDE

According to Durkheim, there are four types of suicide:

Anomic Suicide: Anomic suicide happens when the disintegrating forces in the society make individuals feels lost or alone. This type of suicide usually done by those persons who feel morally lost or who think that they have no reason for living. Teenage suicides are the example of anomic suicide. Those persons, who have been sexually abused or whose parents are alcoholics mostly attempt anomic suicide.

Altruistic Suicide: Altruistic suicide happens when an individual or a group of society has influenced by social forces. People who commit this type of suicide subordinate themselves to collective expectations, even when death is the result. Such as soldiers, who do fight for country, hijackers or terrorists, who plant bomb on their body and commit suicide for their society in which they taught for sacrificed of their life or for money which has given to their family or farmers, who sacrificed their life for crops etc.

Fatalistic Suicide: Fatalistic suicide happens when an individual feel oppressed by the surrounded people. They feel disturbed by those persons, who enforce orders on them. They feel mentally or physically sick and this type of sickness force them to commit suicide. Prisoners or bounded labour are examples of Fatalistic suicide.

Egoistic Suicide: Egoistic suicide happens when an individual feel totally detached from that society or community where they have an extreme sense of attachment. Those persons who are aged commit Egoistic suicide, when they feel lonely due to their retirement or community, society, loss of family or any family member who is very attach to them.

Section 309 of Indian Penal Code deals with attempt to suicide:

Section-309: Attempt to commit suicide.- Whoever attempts to commit suicide & does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend one year, or  with fine or with both.

In Ram Sunder v. State[1], it was held by the Court that if a person openly declares that he will fast to death and then proceeds to refuse all nourishment until the stage is reached when there is eminent danger of death occurring. He can be convicted of the offence of attempt of suicide. The peculiar difficulty about suicide by starvation is that it is long drawn out process, which can be interrupted or given up at any stage. Unless there is some overt declaration by the accused of his intention to fast to death it is difficult to be sure that he really intended to persevere to the bitter end. And even if there is such an intention at the beginning but the possibility is that the accused may change his mind and break his fast before it become dangerous. The accused was employed in the mental hospital Bareilly. He was suspended from services. The accused alleged that the authorities in charge of the institution were guilty of unfair discrimination and on 27-2-1960 in order to coerce them into re-instating him, he lay down on a bed near the Mahatma Gandhi statute in the heart of the city in Bareilly and proceeded to fast. On 1-3-1960 he was arrested by the police officer and was sent to hospital. At the trial the accused admitted that he had gone on hunger strike but denied that he intended fasting to death. The accused was not held guilty of an offence under Section 309, IPC.

 In case of Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra[2] where a police constable of Bombay city police force attempted to commit suicide outside the office of Municipal commissioner Bombay, on 27th April, 1985 by pouring kerosene on himself & trying to light his clothes, due to mental illness & Schizophrenia because of a road accident, which was held in 1981. So, he was arrested & proceeded against under section 309 of Indian Penal Code. It was held by the Bombay High Court that right to live as recognized by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution includes also a right not to live or not to be forced to live which in positive terms would mean right to die or end one’s life. Section 309, I.P.C. was therefore, ultra virus and violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. 

In the famous case of Olga Tellis & others v. Bombay Municipal Corporation[3], which is popularly known as Pavement Dweller’s case wherein Apex Court held that right to life also includes right to livelihood. However, Bombay High Court clarified that mercy-killing or euthanasia is not suicide and hence would not be covered under Section 309 IPC. The reason being that suicide by very nature is an act of terminating one’s own act without the aid and assistance of any other human agency.

The Apex Court distinguished suicide from euthanasia in the case of P. Ratinam Nagbhushan Patnaik v. Union of India[4] and observed that “The legal and other questions relatable to euthanasia are in many ways different from those raised in suicide”. Therefore, justification for allowing persons to commit suicide cannot be played down or cut down because of any encouragement to persons pleading for legislation of mercy killing and pointed out, “ the causes of suicide are many and varying inasmuch as some owe their origin to sentiments of exasperation, frustration and resolution, some are the result of feeling of burden, torture & sadness, some are caused by loss of employment, reverse of fortune, misery due to illness, family trouble and thwarted love. Sometimes is in opposition to society and sometimes in opposition to particular persons. This happens when the person commit suicide nurses a feeling of unjust treatment, mal-treatment or cruelty. Therefore, what is needed to take care of suicide-prone persons, are soft words and wise counseling of a psychiatrist and not stony dealing by a jailor followed by harsh treatment meted out by a heartless prosecutor.” The Court further clarified that self-killing is conceptually different from abetting others to kill themselves and observed that one of the objects of punishment is protection of society from the depredation of dangerous persons in case of suicide. Considered from this point of view, suicide is not an offence. Therefore, the arguments that by quashing Section 309 I.P.C. which makes attempt to suicide a penal offence, Section 306, I.P.C. would not survive, is not tenable. But the ruling in .Ratinam’s case had been overruled by the Apex Court in the case of Smt. Gyan Kaur v. State of Punjab.[5]

“RIGHT TO LIFE” DOESN’T INCLUDE “RIGHT TO DIE”

In the case of Smt. Gyan Kaur v. State of Punjab[6], appellants and her husband, both were convicted by the trial Court under Section 306 I.P.C., abetment for commit suicide by Kulwant Kaur. And they got sentenced of 6 years’ RI and fine of Rs. 2000. High Court also maintained the same but the Court had reduced three years punishment of Gyan Kaur. Then they made appeal in Supreme Court against the conviction and sentence under section 306 I.P.C., Then  it was held by the Apex Court that right to life under Article 21 does not include right to die ‘because extinction of life’ is not included in ‘protection of life’. Therefore, penalizing for an attempt to commit suicide under section 309, I.P.C. is not violative of Article 21 and is not unconstitutional, and therefore, the provision contained in Section 306, I.P.C. is also not unconstitutional, and it is perfectly valid. Hence the appeal was disallowed.

CONCLUSION

“When a man commits suicide he has to undertake certain positive overt act and genesis of these acts cannot be traced to, or be included within the protection of the “right to life” under Article 21 of Constitution of India. The significant aspect of “sanctity of life” is also not to be overlooked. Article 21 is a provision guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty and by no scratch of imagination can “extinction of life” be read to be included in “Protection of life”. Whatever may be the philosophy of permitting a person to extinguish his life by committing suicide, their Lordships find it difficult to construe Article 21 to include within it the “right to die” as a part of fundamental right guaranteed therein. “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, the Court found no similarity in the nature of 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 “Right to die”. To give meaning and content to the word “life” in Article 21, it has been construed as life with human dignity. Any aspect of life which makes it dignified may be read into it but not that which extinguishes it and is, therefore, inconsistent with the continued existence of life resulting in effacing the right itself. The “right to die”, if any, is inherently inconsistent with the “right to life” as is “death” with “life. Section 306, I.P.C. and Section 309, I.P.C. are intra virus the Constitution.[7]

So, it is clear by above mentioned statement that, Section- 309 of Indian Penal Code admits those facts, which relates to an attempt to commit suicide and it’s an offence in Indian law, but it also clears that “Right to life” does not include “Right to die”, therefore, Section 309 of Indian Penal Code does not violate Article 21 of the Constitution of India who guarantees the protection of life and personal liberty.

References:

[1] AIR 1962 All 262.

[2] 1987 Cr. LJ 743

[3] AIR 1986 SC 180.

[4] AIR 1994 SC 1844

[5] AIR 1996 SC 946.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Smt. Gyan Kaur v. State of Punjab etc.,(1991) 1 Crimes 197 (SC) : 1996 Cri LJ 1660 : AIR 1996 SC 946.

About the Author

ShipraMrs. Shipra Arora Dhiman is an Asst. professor of Law at NIMT, the University of Meerut. She completed her LL.M. from Subharti University and eventually earned her spot as the Law Coordinator at Vidhi Evam Kanun Sansthan. In addition to teaching, Adv. Shipra is a regular writer on Criminology and a Kiran Bedi fan. She recently collaborated on a manuscript with her friend and colleague, Mrs. Uma Pal, entitled “Offences against human body”, in which she and Mrs. Uma Pal presented research related to the offences which relates to human body in India. She can be contacted at shipraaroradhiman1@blogspot.in.

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