India has distinguished itself by recording the highest number of suicides in the World. It contributes 34% to the total World tally. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which punishes attempting suicide; was bequeathed to us by the Britons, who considered killing or attempting to kill oneself as a crime against State.
According to the Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code
- 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 1[or with fine, or with both].
In March 2011, the Supreme Court recommends that the Parliament should consider the feasibility of deleting this Section. In 2018 again, a bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud observed that it was inhuman to punish a distressed person who failed to end her or his life by suicide.
The Law Commission has twice, in 1971 and 2008, recommended the repeal of Section 309. The IPC (Amendment) Bill, 1978, although passed by the Rajya Sabha; still lapsed on account of Parliament getting dissolved before it could be passed by the Lok Sabha.
In 2017, the Indian government adopted The Mental Healthcare Act. One of the provisions of it i.e. Section 115, is in dichotomy to Section 309.
According to the Section 115(1) of the Mental Healthcare Act
- 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.
This is a welcome step since Section 309 makes attempted suicide a medico-legal case and; the golden hour of providing effective treatment to the person who has attempted suicide is wasted. The section also unnecessarily burdens the law enforcement machinery.
The section not only seems unnecessary but runs contrary to logic. Instead of State helping out the person committing suicide, it does something least expected from it – convict the person because he failed in his attempt to commit suicide. Sections 29 and 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act puts the onus on the government to create an environment to reduce suicides, and that is exactly what the government should be doing. The commission of suicide doesn’t come easy; the person committing it, is under extreme stress, pushing him to take steps towards self-destruction. It seems the time has arrived that; the archaic Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code should be repealed; as Section 115 is ready and waiting at the flanks to take its place.
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