By Riya Singh, New Law College, BVP, Pune.
Suicide has been declared as a crime in many countries. Most of the western countries have already decriminalised individual suicides, calling it a defiant act. Hence, it is discouraged in every possible way. In countries like Rome and Japan it was seen as a kind of defiant act that violates the personal freedom. A person who commits suicide is not within the reach of law; the problem arises in matters like corpse of the person, distribution of his property. His family members have to suffer a lot. This matter has been covered by legislation of some countries.
In past suicide and mercy killing were governed under the religious belief that only God can decide and determine about the death of a person. In Athens, persons who used to commit suicide were deprived from normal burial. They were buried in the outskirts. They were denied any kind of honoured burial. Criminal ordinance was passed against the person. The person’s body who used to commit suicide was dumped in the heap and his property was confiscated.
Till today punishments and penalties are there for suicide. By 1879, English law started distinguishing between suicide and homicide, deceased’s estate was confiscated but normal burial was not denied. Under many jurisdictions, it is a crime to assist somebody either directly or indirectly in committing suicide.
LEGISLATION IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES:
In Victoria committing suicide is not a crime. But the person who has survived can be charged under manslaughter. It is a crime to aid, assist or incite somebody to commit suicide. State also gives power to people to use reasonable and necessary forces to prevent the person from committing suicide.
Suicide is not a crime in Canada. It has been declared by the Parliament of Canada in the Criminal Code of Canada in the year 1972. Physician suicide was also given consent and it was declared as constitutional on the ground that disabled people have Right to assisted suicide under section 15 of Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Attempt to suicide is not punishable in Ireland. Under Irish law, harming oneself is not considered as attempt to suicide. In the year 1993 it was decriminalised. Aiding somebody in suicide and euthanasia are illegal. It is still challenged in High Court since 2012.
In Netherlands, just being at the place place and giving moral support to a person who is committing suicide is not an offence. But it is a crime to take part in preparation or execution of suicide.If the suicide is committed in assistance of Physician, it can be considered as an exception.
In India attempted suicide is punishable under section 309 of I.P.C. Section 309 states that whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such an offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year(or with fine or with both).
Under this section, suicide is not a crime because the person who is already dead can’t be brought in the purview of any legislation. It is only applicable to the person who has failed in committing suicide. The Act attempts to prevent such acts that help in committing suicide.
Suicide in Ancient India:
Suicide was permissible in India in ancient period under certain circumstances. According to Manu- A Brahman could get rid of his body by one of the three modes i.e. drowning, precipating, burning or starvation. It was practised by great sages to free themselves from sorrow and fear.
Fasting till death is known as Santhara. It is a process which starts after a person takes vow of sallekhana. It is followed by Jains. It is considered as a pious and religious act to liberate the soul from the bondage of Karmas. The goal of the Santhara is to purify the body from sin of past. It is kind of voluntary termination of one’s life.
Women used to sacrifice their lives voluntarily after the death of their husband that was considered as glorious and such women were worshipped for their sacrifice and such kind of courageous act.
The essence of suicide is- it should be intentional. Thus, if a person takes an overdose of poison by mistake or in state of intoxication, he is not guilty.
Hunger strikes used to get the demands fulfilled or for social welfare is not offensive unless it is done for killing oneself. In case of Ramsundar Duby to get his job back the accused went for fast until death. The accused was held guilty under this section.
Due to globalisation and materialism standard of living of people are becoming depressed and distressed. In a recent study it has been revealed that about 1.2 Lakh people in India commit suicide every year and more than four Lakh people attempt to commit suicide.
Criminalization of suicide under the said section has been questioned many times on ground of morality and constitutionalism. In case of Maruti Shripati Dubal section 309 of I.P.C was struck down and it was declared ultra vires and it was also declared violative of Article 21 that guarantees ‘right of life and personal liberty’.
Delhi HC in the case of Sanjay Kumar held that continuance of section 309 of I.P.C is an anachronism unworthy of human society and they further stated that it should be deleted from statute.
In Rathinam’s case SC struck down section 309 of I.P.C and declared this section as cruel, irrational and violative of Article 21 of constitution. The court upheld that ‘Right to Life’ includes ‘Right not to live a forced life’ i.e.to end one’s life if one so desires.
In case of Gyan Kaur apex court held that right to life does not include right to die. Extinction of life is not included in protection of life. The court further held that section 306 constitutes a different offence and can exist independently of section 309 of I.P.C. There is no correlation between the two sections.
Section 309 of I.P.C is not only unsatisfactory it’s discriminatory too. A number of political leaders have acted against it by going for hunger strike until death to get their demands fulfilled. There have been many cases that provisions have been applied only on helpless and for people who are economically and mentally suppressed already. It’s a monstrous act and unjust to punish a person who has already gone through such a mental trauma that he decided to take such a step to end his life. He needs counselling and help not punishment.
On September 21, 2011 Delhi HC was informed by the Central Government that it was contemplating decriminalizing attempt to commit suicide. All the states also expressed their consent on it. The submission was made before Chief Justice Dipak Mishra. During the course of hearing of a Public Interest Litigation by a NGO in which it was prayed to declare section 309 of IPC as ultra vires.T he petitioner foundation also prayed for expeditious implementation of the 210th report of the Eighteenth Law Commission of India which also sought recommendation for repealing of section 309 IPC and declaring it as “anachronistic law”. The title of the report was “Humanization and Decriminalization of Attempt to Suicide”. It was submitted by its then Chairman, Justice AR Lakshmanan in 2008. High Court refused to adjudicate the constitutional validity of section 309 I.P.C. Their contention was the issue has already been settled down by SC bench in the year 1996.The Court asked for a response to Central Government about the report of Law Commission of India. There is no difference between suicide as understood by people and the right to voluntarily end one’s life. Both stand on equal pedestal as far as Indian Law is concerned. As regards the fate of terminally ill-patients, a ruling of the Apex Court delivered in 2011 is the much-publicized Aruna Shanbaug’ case. Some relief has been given by the court wherein the Court has given a nod for Passive Euthanasia albeit with suitable safeguards so as to prevent its possible misuse.
The discriminatory nature of Section 309 of I.P.C becomes prominent, when its provisions are compared with Section 300 of I.P.C. Legislators took a lot of pain to distinguish murder from culpable homicide. But under Section 309, same kind of punishment is given to all. High time, Section 309 of the I.P.C should be repealed, as its provisions are not justified. It has lost its utility in today’s time. In most of the countries such provisions have been abolished. India also needs to go with the flow and make the necessary changes in legislation; there is no point in keeping such a legislation that is harsh and troublesome for people and people can anyway not be forced to live, if it’s not possible for them to live a happy and dignified life. There is after all, no point in living like an animal. Article 21 of the Constitution grants freedom of life and personal liberty. So, liberty should be provided to citizens in every sense of the word.
 Dwarka Punja v Emperor, (1912)14 Bom LR 146
 AIR 1963 All 262
 Times of India, 10 October, 2007
 Maruti Shripati Dubal vs State of Maharashtra, 1987 Cr LJ 743 Bom
 State vs Sanjaya Kumar ,1985 CrLJ931
 P. Rathinam vs Union of India AIR 1994 SC 1844
 Gyan Kaur vs. State of Punjab AIR 1994 SC 392
 Aruna Shaunbag vs Union of India AIR 2011