suicide
source: https://www.deccanherald.com/

Introduction

Our religions do speak of suicide as sinful and evil in nature. According to the Islamic culture, the fate of those who die of suicide is seemingly terrible. It is considered that those who die due to suicide are placed in hell. In Hinduism, the word suicide is called Atma-Hatya which literally means the murder of the soul. The soul does not rest in peace naturally and keeps on disturbing the living. The Buddhism followers consider suicide to be a violator of their basic principle which abstains from taking life. Despite this, almost eighty-hundred thousand people die committing suicide every year and it is even the third largest cause of death amongst the 15 to 19-year-olds.[1]

A situation is ought to be serious and thoughtful when a person purposely takes his own life. In most cases, it is often unknown what exactly led to the suicide of a person. Majorly, it is committed in the wake of strong emotions and personal sentiments that drag a person away from his life. Understandably, suicide is the last resort for a person when without thinking of the sufferings on the family and friends and the implications on the society opts to die. Talking of the implications of suicide on the family as well as the society, are dreadful. Suicide can have a devastating effect on the life of people connected to the person. It may even lead to many more traumatic stresses and effects on the people close to the person. Dying by way of suicide creates a false impression in the minds of many.

Current Scenario

Nowadays, the youth are all the more sensitive in their approach to life and a small hurdle may spell danger costing their life.

Talking of stress amongst the students these days is itself a lot to be pondered upon. The students are put under a lot of pressure by the stereotype approach adopted by the society in dealing with studies. A student is mentally forced to crack competitive exams, failing which he feels disheartened, dejected, and often goes into depression. Some students overcome, whereas some find it difficult to handle these situations and attempt suicide. Our country has developed a lot of provisions governing the deaths by suicide which themselves have marginally evolved with time.

The most common problems due to which a person no longer finds any reason to live are depression, mental illness, traumatic stress, any loss, or a fear to lose something or someone, hopelessness, and substance use. Exactly what internal and external elements or situations cause a person to take his own life? A person when gets carried away by thoughts of falling short of standards, self blames, negative consequences, and adverse view of self, tends to become emotionally timid resulting in taking his own life. These internal factors of pessimistic thoughts and negative mindsets lead a person to suicide which he considers as the only route at that time.

Durkheim Theory of Suicide

Another aspect can be very well explained by the ‘Durkheim theory of Suicide’, where social patterns are identified as a key factor in suicidal cases. First amongst the four types is Egoistic suicide, where people are detached from social integration. Second is the Altruistic suicide, where people are too deeply integrated with the society, the third one being the Anomic suicide, where moral and social regulation amongst the people is lacking and the last one being the Fatalistic suicide where the social patterns of a person are in excessive control of the concerned authority.[2]

Careful observation in all of the above four types settles that suicidal factors like depression, anxiety, and others can be at large influenced by society. How the society interacts and mixes up with you and how they expect and control your social interaction can be the deciding factor for such a person. These increasing numbers are a worrying sign where the World Health Organization has even considered suicide as a public health priority. In response, WHO aims to increase the wakefulness of public health importance and discourages the practice of suicide and suicide attempts. It takes steps to prevent suicides by encouraging countries to form suicide prevention policies and centers.

The suicide rate in India

Specifically talking about our country, more than one hundred thousand people die of suicide every year. In the previous two decades, the suicide rate has risen from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000 cases.[3] The children of age groups 15 to 25 years have at large resorted to this option. The foremost and most debatable legal provision relating to the deaths by suicide is Section 309 where an attempt to suicide or a mere act resulting in the attempt to suicide is punishable with imprisonment.[4]

The crime of attempt to suicide was placed in Chapter XVI of the Penal Code which contained offenses affecting human life along with offenses like murder and culpable homicide. The mentality of the lawmakers was that the lives of people are not only important to them but also to the state and society. But the questionable area of the provision is the imprisonment of such people. It is very vague and understandable to put a person, who is already stressed out and facing depression, behind the bars along with other criminals. The punishment of imprisonment is meant by creating an atmosphere of rehabilitation to the criminals where they can realize their wrongs and become good and healthy beings for society. An Indian actress very clearly explained this in the wake of a recent incident where the very well-known Indian actor died due to suicide.

Case Laws

Criticizing the way suicide is depicted, the actress described that criminals ‘commit’ a crime whereas, people ‘die’ by suicide rather than ‘committing’ a suicide. In the case of attempted suicide, it is no good to put a person behind the dingy cells where he cannot overcome his anxiety and stress. Rather it is harm and suffering inflicted on that person who is suffering from psychological and emotional anxieties. This provision was under debate for years which got criticized by the High Court itself in State vs. Sanjay Kumar Bhatia[5] where the court observed that Section 309 of the IPC has no justification and no right to stay in the books of law. In another case of Maruti Shripati Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra[6], the honorable court observed that Section 309 is contrary to the Right to Life and Equality before Law.

Active and Passive Euthanasia

The concept of ‘right to die’ or ‘right not to live’ has highlighted the idea of adoption of the process of Euthanasia in India. There are mainly two types: Active and Passive Euthanasia. Active euthanasia is a process where something is induced or introduced in to cause death whereas, Passive euthanasia is withholding treatment or some measures which would have saved a person’s life. In Gian Kaur’s case, the legality of both active and passive euthanasia was termed as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court in Aruna Shanbaug vs. Union of India[7] however allowed passive euthanasia in persons who are suffering from a chronic terminal disease and are likely to be left out in a vegetative state. The court held that both the court of law and the Indian Constitution cannot compel a competent and able person to not refuse to medical treatment.

Another debatable issue was raised in the case of Maruti Shripati Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra with respect to Article 21: ‘Right to Life’. Considering the provision of the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression which includes the Right to Remain Silent also, the court similarly interpreted the Right not to live within the ambit of Article 21: Right to Life. The court also observed that the people who attempt suicide are facing either mental disorders or incurable diseases or physical ailments, which not in any case require imprisonment. These people should be provided with psychiatric treatments and nursing homes by the government. Thus the court struck down Section 309 of IPC as unconstitutional.

Landmark Judgements

In another landmark judgment of Rathinam vs. Union of India[8], the court upheld the decision of Bombay HC and held Section 309 of IPC as unconstitutional. It was all pure until the landmark judgment of Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab[9] in 1996 overturned the Rathinam verdict and ruled Section 309 to be constitutionally valid because it observed that the true meaning of ‘life’ in Article 21 means ‘life with dignity’ and a feature like right NOT to live, entirely quenches its sense. As death is contrary to life, the same is the case with the Right to life and right to die, observed the Apex Court. The court clarified the misinterpretation of Bombay HC in Maruti Shripati Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra and held that right not to speak is an omission while the right to die is an act and entirely two different aspects.

Conclusively, unlike the right to life, the right to die is not a natural right and it does not come under the right to life or any other provisions of the fundamental right provided under the constitution.

42nd Law Commission Report

There were many legal recommendations made by the law commissions on this issue starting with the 42nd Law Commission Report where a proposal was made to repeal the provision of attempted suicide and add a provision with imprisonment for people who instigate these activities. In 1997, soon after being driven by the infamous Gian Kaur verdict, the recommendation of the 156th Law Commission report sought retention of the criminalization of Section 309. The most rational suggestions came from the 210th Law commission Report which targeted scrapping up of Section 309. Stating that life is a gift by God which he can only take away, the report suggested that whether this provision is constitutional or unconstitutional doesn’t matter when it is inhumane and unjustifiable.

Mental Health Act, 2017

Inclined by the above, the parliament came up with the Mental Healthcare Act in the year 2017 which made Section 309 ineffective, thus repealing the provision. According to Section 115 of the act, if any person attempts to die by suicide will be presumed to have severe stress or mental sickness and will not be tried under the penal provision of Section 309. When such a person is assumed to be stressed then the act also comes up with duty for the government to provide proper care and treatment to the person so that risk of the same is reduced. The government is obliged to make a proper rehabilitation environment and provide adequate physical and psychiatric treatment to the person who attempted suicide.

The penal provision of Section 306 which punishes any person who instigates or helps in the commission of an attempt to suicide or suicide has always been the most sorted out penal provision related to suicides.

Conclusion

A person who is already under a financial, personal, or any material problem when gets even meek advice of suicide, is strongly influenced and does not get away with it. Increasing suicides are most commonly instigated by people to whom the mentally ill person is strongly connected with. Instigation and helping out in such an immoral and inhumane act is justified by a minimum of 10 years behind the jail under the penal provision.

At last, is the importance of effective implementation of these guidelines and the legal codes by both the society as well as the government authorities. The government, as well as the private bodies, should set up educational programs and events in rural and urban areas. The medical professionals and the related people need to maintain close contact with such a person and counsel him on a regular basis. One of the main reasons why a person who is mentally weak cannot overcome the anxieties is the worry of him being judged by society. Such a person hesitates to visit a psychiatric or even a closely related person. This situation takes us to the importance of suicide helpline numbers where such a person can approach easily. More and more developments in this technological manner need to be carried out by the government along with private healthcare NGO’s.

Finally the perspective or the view of the emotionally weak or stressed people who attempt suicide needs to be transformed into a much positive frame.


Author:

kushagra sharma Kushagra Sharma | Amity University, Uttar Pradesh


References

[1] A WHO data, September 2, 2019

[2] Why do people kill themselves? Centre for Suicide Prevention; ROBERT OLSON, LIBRARIAN, BA, MLIS, CENTRE FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION

[3] Suicide and its prevention: The urgent need in India, Lakshmi Vijaykumar, Indian Journal of Psychiatry; 2007 Apr-Jun; 49(2): 81–84.

[4] See Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code

[5] State vs. Sanjay Kumar Bhatia, 1985 CriLJ 931

[6] Maruti Shripati Dubal vs. State of Maharashtra, 1987 CriLJ 743

[7] Aruna Shanbaug vs. Union of India, Writ Petition (Cr.) No. 115 of 2009

[8] Rathinam vs. Union of India, AIR 1994 SC 1844

[9] Gian Kaur vs. State of Punjab, AIR 1996 SC 946

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