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Suicide Let's Stop it

Suicide, the moment we hear this word and get to know someone has committed it, the first question which pops in our mind is Why? Most of us start speculating about the reason behind it. If we know him/ her, we start discussing about the behavioral aspect and character of that person. We hardly realize or understand that suicide is the result of mental health problem.

It is an act of voluntarily or intentionally taking oneís own life. Suicide by its very nature is an act of self-killing or self-destruction, an act of terminating oneís own life[1].

The National Crime Bureau report 2018 states that Each suicide is a personal tragedy that prematurely takes the life of an individual and has a continuing ripple effect, dramatically affecting the lives of families, friends and communities. Every year more than 1,00,000 people commit suicide in our country.

The list of reasons of suicide is quiet long and is mainly driven by factors or reasons related to personal, professional, financial, family etc. As per the report, Andaman and Nicobar Island has reported highest percentage among state/ UT in matters of suicide, whereas Bihar has reported the least number of suicide[2] cases. The report also mentions that maximum suicide which is around 30.4% is due to family reason.

World Health Organization (WHO) has termed Suicide as a serious public health Problem[3]. It has been confirmed by WHO that every year close to 800,000 people die by suicide. It has been further stated by WHO that suicides are preventable. Even as per the WHO Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020, WHO member states have committed themselves to working towards the global target of reducing the suicide rate in countries by 10 % by 2020. WHO is working on all sorts of awareness programme so that public at large can understand about this mental challenge.

Statutes which talks about the Suicide[4]:

As per the Indian Penal code, suicide falls under the penal provision. In India abetment and attempt of suicide, both are offences and attract punishment.

Sec 306. Abetment of suicide -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.

Section 309. Attempt to Commit Suicide: 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.

Sec. 304-B Dowry Death: Where the death of a woman is caused within seven years of marriage and that death is not under the normal circumstances and her death was shown subject to cruelty or harassment by her husband or any relative of her husband, then the such death shall be called dowry death. So, if the cruelty reached to such level that woman commit suicide within seven years of marriage, then it will be presumed that it is a case of Dowry Death.

Section 498A in The Indian Penal Code

Section 498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty: Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be pun≠ished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation: For the purpose of this section, cruelty means:

  1. any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or
  2. Harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 as per Sec 113A:

Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman:

When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.

Explanation: For the purposes of this section,
cruelty shall have the same meaning as in section 498A of the IPC (45 of 1860).

In the year the 2017 a separate statute was formulated on Mental health that is The Mental Health Care Act 2017 which came into force from July 7, 2018[5]. This act was enacted with a sole objectto provide for mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfil the rights of such persons during delivery of mental healthcare and services and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

As per sec. 29 of the said Act:

  1. The appropriate Government shall have a duty to plan, design and implement programmes for the promotion of mental health and prevention of mental illness in the country.
  2. Without prejudice to the generality of the provisions contained in sub-section (1), the appropriate Government shall, in particular, plan, design and implement public health programmes to reduce suicides and attempted suicides in the country.


Sec.115 of The Mental health Care Act 2017 states that:

  1. 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.
  2. The appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.


Government initiatives in the past:
The Government of India launched the National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) in 1982, keeping in view the heavy burden of mental illness in the community, and the absolute inadequacy of mental health care infrastructure in the country to deal with it.The District Mental Health Program was added to the Program in 1996[6].

Media Role:

As it is widely stated that media is the fourth pillar of democracy. With great recognition comes greater responsibility and so is with the media when it comes to reporting. The Press council of India publishes guidelines namely Norms of Journalistic conduct in which they speak about the principles and ethics of journalism. They also discuss on how to advertise and what and what not be covered, while doing any story. In the same report they have also mentioned certain parameters which journalists should abide by while reporting on suicide.

It says that journalists shall not[7]:

  1. Publish stories about suicide prominently and unduly repeat such stories;
  2. Use language which sensationalize or normalize suicide, or presents it as a constructive solution to problems;
  3. Explicitly describe the method used;
  4. Provide details about the site/location;
  5. Use sensational headlines;
  6. Use photographs, video footage or social media links.


Unfortunately, whenever any reporting of suicide comes up, the media house ignores the word Not and does everything which they should not be doing. So the question arises, even though the guidelines has been issued by Press Council of India, then why the media house is not following it closely, simple reason is there is no strict penal provision. Why sensational headlines or even few of the media houses do the mono act by creating the same situation over the TV channel. However, there is one separate statute Press council of India Act 1978, which has discussed about the censure.

Section 14 of the said Act talks about power to censure and the same is reproduced below:

Power to censure:

  1. Where, on receipt of a complaint made to it or otherwise, the Council has reason to believe that a newspaper or news agency has offended against the standards or journalistic ethics or public taste or that an editor or a working journalist has committed any professional misconduct, the Council may, after giving the newspaper, or news agency, the editor or journalist concerned an opportunity of being heard, hold an inquiry in such manner as may be provided by regulations made under this Act and, if it is satisfied that it is necessary so to do, it may, for reasons to be recorded in writing, warn, admonish or censure the newspaper, the news agency, the editor or the journalist or disapprove the conduct of the editor or the journalist, as the case may be: Provided that the Council may not take cognizance of a compliant if in the opinion of the Chairman, there is no sufficient ground for holding an inquiry.
  2. If the Council is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient in the public interest so to do, it may require any newspaper to publish therein in such manner as the Council thinks fit, any particulars relating to any inquiry under this section against a newspaper or news agency, an editor or a journalist working therein, including the name of such newspaper, news agency, editor or journalist.
  3. Nothing in sub-section (1) shall be deemed to empower the Council to hold an inquiry into any matter in respect of which any proceeding is pending in a court of law.
  4. The decision of the Council under sub-section (1), or sub-section (2), as the case may be, shall be final and shall not be questioned in any court of law[8].


Two things which itself is debatable are:
why Chairman has been given so much of power and why decision of the council cannot be questioned in any court of law. We understand about the Freedom of Press but such freedom must be used with utmost responsibility and precision.

The freedom is not absolute and is guided by Article 19(2) of Indian Constitution which says that:
Nothing in sub clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

Few Steps which can be taken to reduce the number of suicide cases:

  1. It is always advisable that for any problem prevention is better than cure. We need to open up, be vocal and express our views with each other at home. The media has to behave in responsible manner. Those who have attempted suicide, they are in psychological pain and they need treatment, not punishment. The decriminalizing or criminalizing attempt to suicide is an old and long discussion which is still continuing. The penal provision u/s 309 is kind of double- whammy for the survivor. First the survivor is already suffering from the mental pressure and problem and then legal action just adds further complexity over that survivor and on his/her family. The Law Commission of India in the year 2008 has also recommended for the omission of sec. 309 IPC[9].
  2. Adequate number of helpline must be available in all the states/ UT.
  3. The privacy of the survivor/ patient must be kept in consideration.
  4. Start creating the awareness programme and spread message that mental illness is not the stigma.
  5. Intervention at School/ College level and prepare data base to understand their behavior
  6. At office/ factory there must be counselling center, who can counsel their employees.
  7. Selling of pesticides must be closely observed as done in selling of acid. The WHO has confirmed that most of the suicides or attempted suicide takes place due to eating of pesticides.
  8. Strict punishment provision for media house on contravening the norms of Press Council of India


Conclusion:
We need to understand that suicide is a health problem. In India, the budget over health is already lowest, so we cannot expect that a massive reform can be brought over night in the health sector that is also in mental section. We need to adjudicate the statutory provisions closely and amend accordingly. For any disease, we treat with different ways.

So, this is also a disease, its treatment is also possible, with medicine, love and care. Media house has to understand the repercussion of their irresponsible reporting and the after effect on the survivor, his/her family or deceased and his/ her family. They need to come out from the game of TRP(Television Rating Point). Donít make suicide a source of entertainment, letís stop it.

End-Notes:

  1. http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report210.pdf
  2. https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/chapter-2-suicides-2018.pdf
  3. Criminal Manual by Professional Book Publishers
  4. https://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/Mental%20Health/Mental%20Healthcare%20Act,%202017.pdf
  5. https://www.nhp.gov.in/national-mental-health programme_pg#:~:text=The%20Government%20of%20India%20launched,to%20the%20Program%20in%201996
  6. http://presscouncil.nic.in/WriteReadData/Pdf/NORMSTWOZEROONEININE.pdf
  7. http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1978-37.pdf
  8. http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report210.pdf

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