Suicide means to end one’s life due to stress, depression, or troubles that one faces in his life. It is self-destructive and self-killing. According to World Health Organization, every year 703 000 people take their own life and there are many more people who attempt suicide. Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and was the fourth leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds globally in 2019. Also, the data released by National Crime Records Bureau shows that the suicide rates have been increasing at an alarming rate. As per the World Health Organization’s latest report released on 9 September 2019, in the South-Asian region, India has the highest suicide rate. India’s suicide rate is 16.5 suicides per 100,000 people. The atrocious data shows that Indian women comprise 37% of the total percent of global female suicide as per Lancet Public Health October issue.
Britishers left India in 1947 but we still retain their laws. One such Act is Sec 309 of IPC which states that “Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offense, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year 1[or with fine, or with both]”. Although Britain decriminalized this Act in the 1960s we didn’t. Almost all countries have decriminalized sec 309. Finally, the Law Commission of India in its 201st report stated, “Section 309 of IPC is inhumane. Also, People got aware of mental health and its importance and so the Mental Health Act 2017 was passed by the Indian government in 2018 and Section 115 of the Act decriminalized the attempt to die by suicide although there were reasonable restrictions.  It has two main aspects, any person who tries to commit suicide shouldn’t be tried and presumed to be in severe stress, unless and otherwise proved and it is the duty of the government concerned to help in rehab and protection of such persons. When a person attempts suicide imprisoned or had to pay a fine, that just increases the trauma of that person and the stress level gets increased. That’s a double punishment for him. So, instead of punishing their focus is towards treatment and making them better. There shouldn’t be any discrimination based on caste, class, race, etc in such an illness.
There were arguments against the decriminalizing of an attempt by suicide. Firstly, decriminalizing this act would go against Article 21 as it protects the right to life and does not guarantee the right to die, and thus the state must protect the people who try to end their lives. But most of the courts and judges thought that it is a very personal matter and the state shouldn’t intrude into it making it tough for persons going through it. Secondly, Section 309 used to help in convicting drug traffickers and other suicide bombers but other laws are governing them.  Thirdly, the Hunger strike. Hunger strike/fasting until death is a kind of protest which is done willingly against the government. So, what if someone dies, will it come under Sec 309 of IPC?
Apart from the arguments still few interesting questions and answers are being discussed. First, Is the abatement of suicide is an offense or not? It is because there is an ill intention behind this act. Motive is of utmost importance and putting someone in such a situation where anyone wants to end his/her life is indeed a crime that cannot get unreported. The IPC reads this section as, ‘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’. Abetment doesn’t only mean forcing someone with threat but also aiding the person, putting negative thoughts, and mentally harasses them. Second, What if someone is not under stress genuinely? Many people are not literally under stress, they just try to attempt suicide for near-death experiences and other trivial and absurd matters, in such a case logical reasoning would be applied and it needs to be proved that the person attempting suicide was under severe stress. If they are under stress then they will be put in a rehab center and will get the support of the central government. But if the person was not under stress, then Section 309 would apply to him without the violation of sec 115 of the Mental Health Act 2017. Third, about the MLC i.e. medico-legal cases.  if sec 309 has been decriminalized then is it still a medicolegal case? Yes, It’s mandatory for the hospital authorities to report the investigation so that action could be taken against abusers and harassers and if the person is under stress then proper rehab could be provided to the person concerned. So, suicide comes under the purview of MLC.
A person would end his life when all his options are closed. It could be due to financial, emotional, and social issues. And attempting to die by suicide is indeed a big issue, but asking fine or imprisoning them would make the matter worse for them. So, decriminalizing sec 309 was important and indeed it would help the victims to get better through rehabs. It was welcomed by a psychologist, doctors, activists because even they believed that understanding and analyzing someone’s behavior is first to step instead of just punishing them for their trauma. The focus must be to take mental health seriously and improve the conditions of people suffering through hard times. To implement the laws correctly and promptly is of utmost importance. The state should stay firm in providing counseling and treatment. The World Health Organization also states Suicide as a public health priority and is committed to decreasing the number of suicides. And If we talk about India, people are indeed trying to take mental health seriously and even the motto is now to protect instead of punishing and it’s a great start.
Author’s Name: Sanjali Shukla (Lucknow University)