Govt must now ensure that suicide rates fall

Dec 11, 2014, 07:47 IST | Majeed Memon

Till date, an attempt to commit suicide is considered an offence, which finds place under Chapter XVI of the Indian Penal Code relating to the offences affecting the human body. The penal provision u/s 309 of the IPC provides “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 and shall also be liable to fine’’.

This is a peculiar offence that stands singularly as a unique offence, where the offender can only be prosecuted and punished if he fails in his attempt to commit the offensive act of suicide. If he succeeds, he is no more to be answerable to law. For quite some time, the debate for and against this provision has been on, and the case on both sides appears strong. One school of thought recommends that just as one is assured of right to life by law, why should one not be allowed the right to die? Hence, the right to end life by committing suicide cannot be considered as a crime. The other school of thought believes that if the law does not punish the person attempting to commit suicide, the cases of suicide would substantially grow, and, thereby, people would be inclined to end their lives even on insignificant issues.

Be that as it may, from a sociological angle, an effective government in place is expected not to extend immunity from prosecution to a citizen who attempts to commit suicide, and thereby promote or encourage cases of suicide. Instead the government is expected to explore ways and means by which it could prevent any person from being driven to commit suicide. Why is a person driven to take the extreme step of ending his life? It is only when he is under unbearable distress, hopelessly disappointed and is a victim of perpetual injustice, and when he sees no hope in life that he tends to end it. If he fails in his bid to end life, he invites prosecution u/s 309 of the IPC, and if this offence is established against him, he suffers punishment. This does not seem just, because his agony is aggravated by prosecution. Now that the government proposes to delete this penal section, as a fallout the government must ensure that there should not be a growth in the number of cases of attempt to commit suicide by way of encouragement. A duty is cast on the government to ensure that no person is made to suffer, for whatever reasons, so as to be driven to think of ending his life. Only if the government succeeds in doing so, can this step of scrapping Section 309 of the IPC be appreciated.

The writer is a senior counsel

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