India has a population of about 138+ crore and out of which around 2,30,000
people die by suicide (as in year 2016). With 18 per cent of the world's
population living in India, ‘addressing suicides in India is imperative to
making a global difference in the burden of suicides. Before beginning with the
law of Suicide in India, let us first understand what is Suicide.
What Is Suicide?
Suicide is not specifically defined in Indian Penal Code (IPC), but can be
understood as an act of intentionally causing one's own death. An attempt to
Suicide is an act done with the intention of causing ones own death, which
however does not result in death. An attempt to suicide can be said as a failed
attempt to suicide. It usually succeeds a suicide ideation.
Now the question comes that was is suicide ideation?
It is a thought of
ending ones own life which may or may not result in an attempt to suicide. i.e.
if proper counseling or medical support is not provided at the right time it may
lead to a tragedy for that person as well as for his near and dear ones.
Data from World Health Organisation
As per the information from WHO, there are some points which need to be
- More than 8,00,000 people die by suicide every year, of which around
1,35,000 people are residents of India that counts to around 17% of total
death by suicide. (one person dies every 40 seconds)
- For every one death by suicide more than 20 people attempt to suicide.
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death in15-19 years old.
- Suicide Rates in women in India is 6th highest in the world.
According to the World Health Organization's report, India has the
highest suicide rate in the South-East Asian region. In the last two decades,
the suicide rate in India has increased from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000. The
majority of suicides (37.8%) are by those below the age of 30 years. In India
one student dies due to suicide every hour, which is very devastating. Among the
states, Tamil Nadu have the highest suicide rate, followed by Maharashtra and
India's National Crime Records Bureau, in their report on suicides
in 2015, tabled an analysis of identified causes of suicide according to the
age group of the decedents. Dowry-related issues (8%), other marriage-related
issues (7%), love affairs (6%) and family problems (32%) were thought to explain
a majority of cases of suicide of females aged 18-29 yr, while illness other
than mental illness was believed to account for the suicides of 25 per cent of
both men and women aged 60 yr or more.
Married women account for the highest
proportions of suicide deaths among women in India. Marriage is less protective
against suicide for women than in many other countries because of arranged and
early marriage, young motherhood, low social status, domestic violence and
economic dependence. Among older persons, social isolation, depression,
functional disability and the feeling of being a burden on their family have
been cited as reasons for suicidal ideation. Age and gender clearly are factors
that should be examined in relation to causation of suicide.
Law In India
poet William Henly wrote: I am the master of my fate. I am the Captain
of my soul. How far does it apply?
Now, first of all let us understand the bare provisions relating to Suicide in
India. Under the Indian Penal Code, sec- 305, 306, and 309 deals with abetment
and attempt to suicide.
Section 305U/s 305, punishment for abetting the suicide of a child or an insane person
is given, which reads as follows:
If any person under eighteen years of age, any insane person, any delirious
person, any idiot or any person in a state of intoxication, commits suicide,
whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with death or
imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, and
shall also be liable to fine.
Classification of offence:
This offence is cognizable, non-bailable,
non-compoundable offence. It is triable by Court of session.
Section 306u/s 306, punishment for abetting suicide is given, which reads as follows:
if any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide,
shall be punished with imprisonment of either description of term, which may
extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.
Classification of offence- this offence is cognizable, non-bailable,
non-compoundable offence which is triable by court of session.
In Archana Dubey v/s State of Madhya Pradesh
, the deceased Bhaskar Pandey
committed suicide by taking some pesticides. Before dying, the deceased told his
friend that he took the pesticide because of Archana Dubey and his father.
Archana had a love affair with the deceased.
Later, Archana and his father
forced the deceased to marry Archana. They also threatened him that they will
file some false complaint against the deceased. Under this pressure, the
deceased committed suicide and died. The court held that the petitioner did not
had the intention of causing the deceased to commit suicide, the deceased did so
because of his supersensitive behaviour.
As per section 107 of IPC:
involves a mental process of instigating a person or intentionally aiding a
person in doing of a thing-Without a positive act on part of accused to
instigate or aid in committing suicide, conviction cannot be sustained.
In order to convict a person under Section 306, there has to be a clear mens rea
to commit offence It also requires an active act or direct act which leads
deceased to commit suicide seeing no option and this act must have been intended
to push deceased into such a position that he commits suicide. The petitioners
neither had the mens rea nor the actus reas and hence their conviction was held
U/s 309 of IPC, punishment for an attempt to commit suicide is given . Suicide
is the only offence, for completion of which, no punishment can be prescribed.
Sec 309 says as follows-
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.
This section is one of the most deliberated sections of IPC.
In P. Rathinam v/s Union of India
, petitioners had filed petitions challenging
the constitutional validity of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. The court
held that SECTION 309 of the Penal Code deserves to be effaced from the Statute
book to humanize our penal laws.
It is a cruel and irrational provision, and it
may result in punishing a person again (doubly) who has suffered agony and would
be undergoing ignominy because of his failure to commit suicide. Then an act of
suicide cannot be said to be against religion, morality or public policy, and an
act of attempted suicide has no baneful effect on society. Further, suicide or
attempt to commit it causes no harm to others, because of which State's
interference with the personal liberty of the concerned persons is not called
The Supreme Court drew a parallel between the other fundamental rights and
observed that just as the right to freedom of speech under Article 19 gives the
right to speak but also includes the right to not speak, the right to live under
Article 21 includes the right to not live. The right to life includes the right
to die with dignity. Section 309 was seen in violation of fundamental right
given in Article 21. Thus, the SC held that section 309 violates Article 21, and
so, it is void.
Gian kaur V/s State of Punjab:
The decision of Rathinam v/s Union of India
ruled out in the case of Gian Kaur V/s State of Punjab
. Gian Kaur and her
husband Harbans Singh were convicted by a Trial Court under Section 306 of the
Indian Penal Code. They were sentenced to six years imprisonment and fine of Rs.
2,000/- for abetting the suicide of Ms. Kulwant Kaur. Section 306 punishes
anyone who abets the commission of suicide, while Section 309 punishes anyone
who attempts to commit suicide.
It was argued that, as held in P. Rathinam v.
Union of India
, the Article 21 right to life includes the right to die. So, a
person abetting suicide is merely assisting in the enforcement of Article 21. A
five-judge bench of the Supreme Court overruled P. Rathinam.
over-ruled its earlier ruling and held that Right to life is a fundamental right
and waiver of fundamental right is not allowed. There is a difference between
dying with dignity (naturally) and dying by self harm (unnaturally). Right to
life does not include right to die. Hence sec 309 of IPC was held valid.
Apart from this, to apply Section 309 the intention to die must also be clear.
In Emperor versus Dwaaraka Poonja, Mr. Poonja had jumped into a well to evade
arrest by the police and not with an intention to die. Hence, he was not charged
under Section 309. Thus, if a person takes an overdose of poison by mistake or
in a state of intoxication, or jumps into a well to evade capture by the
pursuers, he/she would not be guilty under this section.
Path To A Change
Mental Healthcare Bill 2013
was introduced in the Rajya Sabha by Gulam Nazi Azad
in the year 2013, which was passed by the parliament on 7th April 2017 and came
into force on 7th July 2018 as Mental Healthcare Act, 2017
. It is an Act to
provide for mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness and
to protect, promote and fulfill the rights of such persons during delivery of
mental healthcare and services and for matters connected therewith or incidental
thereto. This Act superseded the previously existing Mental Health Act,
1987 that was passed on 22 May 1987.
Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 stands in contrast with section
309 of IPC
A girl named Y
got raped by her neighbour. She is extremely
frightened and in pain. She is in agony i.e. facing extreme mental and physical
sufferings. She finally lands into a dilemma and commits suicide but fails in
her attempt. Now, is punishing her under section 309 justified ? There are many
cases apart from this, in which the person cannot be punished for his attempt
but what happens in such cases?
Section 309 of IPC, which deals with those who attempt to die by suicide, was
not only unsatisfactory but also discriminatory. It was inserted in the Code in
order to prevent suicides. The main aim of adding such a section was to create a
However, it converted into a monstrous act that inflicted
further suffering on the person who had already found the life so painful and
unbearable and the chances of happiness so slender that the person decided to
embrace death to end the life. If such a person failed in the attempt to die,
inflicting torture and degradation by punishment would be unreasonable and
unjust. In fact, such persons deserve compassionate and sympathetic treatment.
Attempt to die by suicide is discussed in Section 115 of MHCA 2017.
Section 115 of MHCA, 2017 states that:
Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the IPC, any person who
attempts to die by suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have
severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code.
Here, the words mental illness
, which were used in a previous draft of the MHCA in 2013, were replaced by severe stress, in 2016, by the Indian
Parliament in MHCA 2017 after a lot of deliberations.
The main crux of these
Stigma associated with the word mental illness for every person who dies by
suicide or attempts to die by suicide and
The existence of various sections of IPC such as Section 306 (abetment of death
by suicide) which states:
If any person dies by suicide, whoever abets the
commission of such suicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either
description for a term which may extend to 10 years, and shall also be liable to
, and Section 116 (abetment of an offence punishable with imprisonment if
the offense is not committed).
Hence, considering the stigma and abetment laws associated with attempted
suicide, the words mental illness were changed to severe stress. However, it
is still important to recognize the need for mental health interventions in
persons who attempt to die by suicide.
This section of the Mental Healthcare Act treats suicide as a medical issue. It
shows sympathy towards the victims of suicide. According to the Section 115 of
Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA), 2017, suicide attempters are presumed to have
severe stress, not to be punished and the government should have duty to provide
care, treatment, and rehabilitation to reduce the risk of recurrence.
SUICIDE, is a psychiatric problem and not a manifestation of criminal instinct.
what is needed to take care of suicide-prone persons are soft words and wise
counselling (of a psychiatrist), and not stony dealing by a jailor following
harsh treatment meted out by a heartless prosecutor. State governments are
required to provide adequate care and rehabilitation for such individuals as to
prevent a recurrence of an attempt to suicide.
However, that does not absolve
anyone from abetting an attempt to die by suicide. That is to say if anyone
abets any person to die by suicide, he will definitely be punished as per
section 305 and 306 of IPC.
In State v. Sanjay Kumar Bhatia
, the Division Bench of the Honorable High Court
of Delhi observed The continuance of Section 309 IPC is an anachronism unworthy
of a human society like ours. The provision like Section 309 IPC which has no
justification has no right to continue to remain on the statute book.
How Far Does It Affect Section 309 Of IPC?
The Mental Health Care Act does not repeal Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code,
but merely provides the presumption of mental illness. The words
notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of Indain Penal Code
immunizes section 309 of IPC from section 115 of MHCA,2017.
Section 115 gives a
presumption that anyone who commits suicide is suffering from mental stress. It
limits the scope of application of section 309 of IPC. The words unless
proved otherwise gives way for police investigations. However Section 115 of
Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 and Section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 continue
to stand in contrast.
Suicide Legislation in other Nations
In the Australian state of Victoria, while suicide itself is no longer a crime,
a survivor of a suicide pact can be charged with manslaughter. Also, it is a
crime to counsel, incite, or aid and abet another in attempting to suicide, and
the law explicitly allows any person to use "such force as may reasonably be
necessary" to prevent another from dying by suicide.
Historically, various states listed the act of suicide as a felony, but these
policies were sparsely enforced. In the late 1960s, 18 U.S. states had no laws
against suicide. By the late 1980s, 30 of the 50 states had no laws against
suicide or suicide attempts, but every state had laws declaring it to be a
felony to aid, advise, or encourage another person to commit suicide.
the early 1990s only two states still listed suicide as a crime, and these have
since removed that classification. In some U.S. states, suicide is still
considered an unwritten "common law crime," as stated in Blackstone's
The common law crimes of attempting suicide and of assisting suicide were
codified in Canada when Parliament enacted the Criminal Code in 1892. It carried
a maximum penalty of 2 years' imprisonment. Eighty years later, in 1972,
Parliament repealed the offence of attempting suicide from the Criminal Code
based on the argument that a legal deterrent was unnecessary.
The prohibition on
assisting suicide remained, as s 241 of the Criminal Code:
Counselling or aiding suicide
241. Every one who
- counsels a person to commit suicide, or
- aids or abets a person to commit suicide,
whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to
imprisonment for a term not exceeding fourteen years.
Attempted suicide is not a criminal offence in Ireland and, under Irish law,
self-harm is not generally seen as a form of attempted suicide. It was
decriminalised in 1993.
As with many other western societies, New Zealand currently has no laws against
suicide in itself, as a personal and unassisted act. However, as with comparable
societies, there are still legislative sanctions against 'assisting or abetting'
the suicides of others, under Section 179 of the Crimes Act 1961.
India is a country with regional, religious, social, and linguistic diversity. A
country of different people from different backgrounds but they all have one
thing in common, a heart full of emotions. This can be a reason for an increased
suicide rates in India. Attempt to suicide is not a offence in many countries
but in India, it is still punishable although its scope have been narrowed after
the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.
A person who attempt to suicide need proper
counseling and psychiatric treatment. The schools and colleges should also
provide such counseling to depressed students so that they can tackle with their
exam stress and other problems as well.
Parents must be very friendly to their
children so that they can share their problems openly with them . We need to
understand that a person who is in dilemma need love, care and affection rather
than penal proceedings. They should be sent to rehabilitation centres and must
be encouraged to give life a second chance. Always remember, Suicide is a
permanent solution to a temporary problem.
- 2018 (1) MPWN 305
- 1994 AIR 1844
- 1996 AIR 946
- (1912) 14 BOMLR 146
- 1986 (10) DRJ 31
- Practical implications of Mental Healthcare Act 2017: Suicide and
Suicide attempt by Laxmi Naresh Vadlamani and Mahesh Gowda