The Victory of Body Over Soul

The attempt to commit suicide might soon be decriminalized. I say bravo – but why was an attempt to commit suicide a criminal offence under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in the first place? Because it was in the brilliant year of 1860, where we had already witnessed the ban on sati in 1829, that we followed British (or Christian) principles that treated the act of suicide as an act of ‘self-murder’ and of course, since life was treated as something created by a superior power, taking it was a crime against God of sorts. For a piece touching this subject that I had written a while back, do check out this link[1]. I can’t proceed without quoting the amazingly cocky words of General Sir Charles James Napier, the Commander-in-Chief in India from 1859 to 1861 who is often noted for a story involving Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of sati by British authorities.

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pile. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

It was well after a few decades that rationality had crept into our society and questions arose as to the utility and purpose of such a law. I personally entertained myself often with the absurdity of this law. I mean, a person is suicidal usually when his/her life swerves out of control, when somehow the ground beneath their feet feels snatched away and everything escapes into nothingness and random haphazardness. It is in these situations when the person needs help and guidance to help keep his head in the right place. And what do we do with someone who survives a suicide attempt? We throw him in jail. Of course that’s a rational reaction! This was indeed, a complex crime – where the principal, accessory and victim fell on the same individual.

To be fair, the punishment for this crime was held by the Supreme Court to be not compulsory, but discretionary[2]. But, like they say in Mozambique, rather than giving a gun to a child with the safety switch on, it’s smarter to not give it to him at all. It was last year, that the new Mental Health Bill gained prominence with its treating a suicide attempt to be done in a state of unsound mind, and to presume so unless proven otherwise.[3]  Which is excellent, considering that proper treatment is necessary to help a person get rid of these urges.

The Law Commission said in its report that “The repeal of the anachronistic law contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code would save many lives and relieve the distressed of his suffering.”[4] In a twisted way, the humor almost writes itself in this statement.

That being said, what this change will open doors to is euthanasia or assisted suicide, which I feel is the main object of this change. A large section of the medical community has been harping for a long time about the benefits of euthanasia and the multiple purposes it serves. If the purpose of the Law Commission is really to “relieve the distressed of his suffering”, this might just see the light of day.

About the Author


 Rohan Mukherjee

Ridiculously omnipresent | CEO & Founder of Grayscale Legal | Fellow at The Kairos Society | Percussionist | Doodler | Professional mocker





[2] Gian Kaur v State of Punjab, JT 1996 (3) SC 339



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