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LAWS RELATING TO SUICIDE IN INDIA
In India, the number of suicide cases are on a rise. This increase in rate since the past few years have left everyone astounded. Suicide in the recent years has become one of the major reasons and causes for death in the country. The age group that is more prone to committing suicide is reported to be between 15-39. This pandemic and the stress associated with it have led to a greater number of cases in the nation. Thus, lack of awareness and the rampant amount of cases calls for a deeper knowledge in relation to the legal aspects of suicide in India.
The legislation related to suicide in India provides punishment to any person who tries to commit suicide but ultimately fails to do so under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. This however, has failed to bring any difference in the minds and actions of people who attempt to commit suicide but in fact has led to an increase in the cases at an alarming rate. There has thus been a lot of controversy on this section and new provisions have been introduced in order to do away with the taboo of suicide cases and also to increase awareness on the prevention of the same through legal measures.
CONTROVERSIAL ASPECT OF SECTION 309 OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE
This section deals with attempt to suicide. It provides for a punishment of 1 year along with a fine to anyone who attempts to commit suicide. There has been an elongated debate on this provision of IPC as it is believed to hamper the humanitarian grounds. This argument has been posed in a number of cases where it has been argued that when people are given right to life under Article 21 of the constitution, they must also be given the right to even end their life. Its constitutionality under the said article was challenged in the Gian kaur case, wherein the question of constitutionality against the provision was struck down.
Furthermore, the argument that was raised against the section was in relation to the after effects of the punishment provided under the section. The person who attempts to take his own life is already suffering from trauma and stress and the punishment would further deteriorate the person’s mental condition. Instead of punishment, the person needs more help in every physical, mental and psychological aspect. The person needs proper counselling and medical help rather than punishment. Thus, considering every argument and aspect, the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 was introduced.
MENTAL HEALTHCARE ACT, 2017
The Mental Healthcare Act came into force on 7th April, 2017, in India. This act was introduced to be able to bring about positive and necessary changes in the laws relating to suicide in India. The primary goal of the act was to enable protection and secure the individuals agonizing from the mental illness which ultimately drives them to terminate their life.
The act was brought into force with a view to combat and prevent the illness which has now become as common as the common flu. It addresses the reason behind the drive of the people to commit suicide and mentions that it occurs when someone suffers from high level of stress and chemical imbalance in their minds. This imbalance results in depression which further drives a person to commit suicide. This act focuses more on the reason and causes of the suicide cases rather than merely providing punishment.
The main reason against providing punishment to such people is provided in section 115 of the act which enumerates about presumption of stress on the part of the person who is undergoing such an illness. The section provides that:
- Notwithstanding anything that is mentioned under section 309 of The Indian Penal Code, any person who attempts to commit suicide must be presumed to be undergoing severe mental stress, until proven otherwise. Thus, no punishment must be given to anyone for the same.
- It also enumerates and possesses a responsibility on the government to provide proper care, treatment and medical help to anyone who commits suicide as a result of suffering from mental illness. This is mentioned and provided to prevent the reoccurrence of such an act in the future.
The 210th Law Commission report of India which was named ‘Humanization and Decriminalization of Attempt to suicide’, extended and provided its view on section 309 of IPC. The section was considered to be inhuman and was proposed to be repealed and erased from the penal code. The efface of the section would in fact lead to saving up lives more than destroying them.
CURRENT POSITION OF SECTION 309 OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE
- The status of the provision is such that the section has been decriminalized but has not been repealed from the Indian Penal Code.
- However, with the introduction of the Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA), the usage and scope of the section under the code has been limited and significantly reduced. Moreover, this section is now used more of an exception rather than the actual law.
Even though the MHCA provides for the non-enactment of section 309, there still are instances where cases of attempt to suicide are being registered under the section of IPC. Due to the lack of awareness in various states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, etc., the existence of the new act is still unknown.
However, changes and awareness are slowly being introduced in every state in relation to the introduction of new act for attempt to suicide and about the decriminalization of section 309 of The Indian Penal Code. There are also various organizations today that are doing their best and working towards spreading awaren