Should Suicide “SECTION 309” Be Decriminalized?

Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code regulates,

"Whoever attempts to commit suicide or 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 fine or both"

Undoubtedly, the above section has been the subject of controversy in many cases, especially over the last two decades. In 1994 P. Rathinam v. Union of India, the Division Bench of two judges of the Supreme Court held section 309 as ultra vires of the fundamental rights enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. Criminal penalties for suicide violate the constitutional right to life by amounting to a double punishment; specifically arguing that women who attempt suicide after abuse cannot be criminally penalized for their suicide attempt.

It is also important to note that the Law Commission of India has also recommended decriminalizing of attempt to commit suicide in its 42nd and 210th reports. So far, the law on attempt to commit suicide is still based on the ruling of Supreme Court in Gian Kaur.

Time have changed, but we are still using the same laws made and enacted in British India not in modern India. As declaring attempt to commit suicide as a crime presents another problem. In countries like United States of America and Canada, practice of using the words ‘died by suicide’ rather than ‘committed suicide’ is slowly developing. The reason for that is, crimes are committed by criminals and suicide is not a crime (not even attempt to commit suicide is a crime in these countries). Therefore, ‘committed suicide’ and similarly ‘attempt to commit suicide’ are not appropriate terms in modern times.

"Attempting suicide is no more a crime in India and there will be no more electric shocks for mentally ill children, as per the new Mental Healthcare Act 2017 notified by the Health Ministry on May 29, a year after it was passed", - The Hindu.

"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," says the Mental_Healthcare_Act,_2017 .

As per the Act, the government will have the duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to the person, who attempts suicide and has severe stress, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.

India, however, continues to have the dubious distinction of recording the highest number of suicides in the world, contributing to 34 % of all suicides. The country has the highest rate of suicide among young women between 19 to 29 years. The National Crime Records Bureau recorded 1,33,623 suicides in 2015.

Well known psychiatrist Dr. Lakshmi Vijayakumar, who is also a member of WHO’s Network on Suicide Research and Prevention, said that after Mental_Healthcare_Act,_2017, Section 309 of the IPC has become “redundant” but it still remains in law books.

Thus section 309 as a law should be amended suitably keeping in view the kind of people who attempt suicide. The section should be amended to punish only those who try to escape punishment due to other criminal liabilities excluding those who attempt it out of sheer frustration, depression or due to living in such circumstances that would invoke suicidal thoughts.

Official Writer - Abhishek Jha

#depression #sucide #attempt #law

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