A STUDY ON ATTEMPT TO SUICIDE

INTRODUCTION : Suicide is a socio-legal issue. It is also a public health issue. Usually the reasons for suicide comes out to be depression or any mental health issues. According to an estimate around 2.2 lakh people in India take their own lives every year.

Attempt to suicide is a crime in India. It has been defined in the IPC under section 309. Also, the Directive Principle of State Policy under the article 47 of the Indian Constitution considers it the duty of the state to improve public health and securing of justice. However, the laws relating to the act of attempt to suicide in the IPC under section 309 talks about attempt to suicide, which is impediment for the state to fulfil its duty. Section 309 of the IPC has continuously been criticised on the grounds of morality resulting in its change from time to time. Another criticism is that a person accused for offence such as human trafficking, drug trafficking or even murder or any other heinous crimes, tries to end his/her life by committing suicide, and if fails to die, this provision would make sure that he is tried under this section at least if he escapes the other changes.


Suicide is no crime as such under the code. It is only Attempt to Commit Suicide that is punishable under the section 309 of the IPC. In other words, it is only when a person is unsuccessful in committing suicide that the code is attracted. If the person succeeds, there would be no offender who could be brought within the purview of the law unless it is the case of Abetment to suicide. The section is based on the principle that the lives of men are not only valuable to them but also to the state which protects them. The state is under an obligation to prevent persons from taking their lives as it prevents them from taking the lives of others.

At common law, although the offender who succeeded in attempt to commit suicide was beyond the reach of law, his guilt resulted in the forfeiture of his property. However, attempt to suicide in England has now ceased to be a crime by virtue of section 1 of the Suicide Act, 1961 which says that ‘the rule of law where it is a crime for a person to commit suicide is hereby abrogated’.

An attempt under section 309, IPC implies at least an act towards the commission of suicide, such as drowning or poisoning or shooting oneself. Let’s take a hypothetical example, if A with an object to commit suicide, throws himself into a river, he is guilty of an attempt and is punishable under the section, if rescued or if he fails in his attempt.



The main essence of the suicide is an intentional self-killing. Thus if a person takes a dose of poison  by mistake or in a state of toxication, or in order to evade capture by his pursuers he is not guilty under this section because here it is not intentional on the part of the accused. Similarly, if a person because of family discord, distraction, loss of a near and dear relation or other cause of a like nature overcomes the instinct of self-preservation, and decides to take his life, he should not be held guilty for attempt to suicide. In such cases, the unfortunate man deserves indulgences sympathies and consolation instead of punishment. But in India the person would be proven guilty under the section 309 of the IPC, this is the harsh reality.


Hunger strike, which is resorted to at times for getting the demands of strikers fulfilled, poses some difficulty in this regard. These cases present difficulty in determining whether the intention of the hunger strike is to kill himself or simply to force the authorities to fulfil his or her demands. If it has been proved that accused here who was on a hunger strike did it intentionally to kill himself, will be liable for attempt to suicide, and if he did it just to force the authorities to fulfil his/her demands then he does not fall under the purview of section 09 of IPC.

Let’s take a real-life case of Ram Sundar Dubey, he was charged under section 309 of IPC for an attempt to commit suicide by resorting to hunger strike. He was an employee in the Mental Hospital in Bareilly. Due to some reasons he was suspended from the service. He alleged that the authorities in charge of the institution were guilty of unfair discrimination. On 27thFebruary 1960 in order to coerce the authorities for reinstating him, he lay down near the famous Gandhi statue in the city, flanked by the posters proclaiming his grievances, and proceeded to fast. After seeing his deteriorating condition the Station Officer of the Bareilly Kotwali took him to the District Hospital and then from here to the District Jail.





Implementation of section 309, IPC to deal with those who attempt to commit suicide is not only unsatisfactory but also discriminatory. A number of eminent social, religious and political leaders have acted contrary to the provisions of section 309 of the IPC by resorting to hunger strike until death. We can take examples of Darshan singhpheroman, Acharya Vinoba bhave and Jain Muni gave up food and water and declared their intentions to continue to fast until death and succeeded in their attempt. But pre-independence Mahatma Gandhi failed to fulfil his demands even after sitting on a hunger strike. But the law enforcement agencies at that time remained silent. Prosecution under section 309 of the IPC has not been initiated against the helpless, poor, economically, socially and mentally suppressed individuals. The provision dealing with attempt to commit suicide is known more for its breach than its observance.


It is high time that section 309 of the IPC be repealed from the statute book. It has lost its utility in the present day of tension and stress. The Law Commission of India in its 42nd report on the Indian Penal code after making a careful analysis of the merits and demerits of the reasons advanced in favour of and against the abolition has rightly recommended for repeal of section 309 of the IPC from Code on the ground that the penal provisions are harsh and unjustifiable. It may be noted here that in England, the United States, Canada and in most of the European countries the act of an attempt to commit suicide has been abolished considering these grounds only. So, it is time now that section 309 of IPC finally be repealed considering all of these grounds.







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