What is life? Some say it is family, some say life is all about happiness, some say life is love but whatever people say one thing is evident that life is very precious. In life, there are many ups and downs that one has to go through. Some people try to end their lives through the way of suicide. It can be an indication that something is gravely wrong in a person’s life or he/she is desperately attempting to escape some unbearable suffering.
SECTION 309 OF IPC (Indian Penal Code)
This section of the IPC (1860) deals with attempt to commit suicide as well as suicide assistance. It is stated as:-
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 1 [or with fine, or with both].
There have been lots of debates regarding the constitutional validity of the Section 309 of the IPC as a whole. This section can be thought of as a punishing tool to the already suffering people, i.e. people who aren’t happy with their lives, who are having emotional/mental breakdown, who don’t want to live, etc. People even who are thinking of committing suicide (let go of who actually attempt one) should be understood as in severe mental pain. They should be given some sort of mental treatment and made understood the importance life and not punish them with some imprisonment or fine or both. Doing this won’t be able to help them or give them a reason to live.
Although section 309 is still in effect, the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 (enacted July 2018) has restricted its application. The relevant provision of the act states:
“Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code.”
The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 law was described as:
“An Act to provide for mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfill the rights of such persons during delivery of mental healthcare and services and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
It aims to ensure that people who have attempted to commit suicide are provided with room to maneuver their lives positively and rehabilitation from the government. It focuses on making the people suffering from mental illness strong, confident, and empowered.
This situation could be seen as a clashing of two laws, i.e. IPC and Mental Healthcare Act. It can’t be ignored as it is a huge blunder for the Indian Law and Justice system.
The National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) Report for suicides in India states that 1,34,516 suicides were committed in the country during the year 2018, showing a rise of 3.6% in comparison to 2017. There are also many other reports like the one released by the WHO that show relatively higher suicide rates but they aren’t often considered and are ignored. Why? Because ignorance is a Bliss in India. People tend to cite and refer to reports that are favorable or Positive or MAY I SAY “LESS NEGATIVE”. Reports like the one released by the NCRB can’t be considered to be 100% true and are often unreliable and half-true. While report released by the WHO state that almost 8,00,000 – 9,00,000 suicides are committed every year worldwide and almost 33% of them are committed in India alone, i.e. almost 2.66,667.
Attempts to change laws related to suicide in India:-
Section 309 of the IPC was set to be limited in effect by the Mental Healthcare Bill, first introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 19th August 2013.
Article 124 of the Bill initially stipulated that “Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the IPC, any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to be suffering from mental illness at the time of attempting suicide and shall not be liable to punishment under the said section.” The bill also stipulated that the Government would have a duty to provide medical care to people that attempted suicide. The bill was referred by the Rajya Sabha to a standing committee on 18th September 2013 which submitted a report on 20th November 2013. In its report, the standing committee expressed three concerns on article 124: firstly, that the presumption of mental illness would subject persons to ‘mental health treatment’, secondly, concerns about the consequences on Section 306 of the IPC, which concerns abetment to suicide, and thirdly, concerns regarding the “institutionalization in silencing victims of domestic violence.”
In response, the Ministry proposed amendments that would change the language of this provision to one concerning the “presumption of severe stress in case of attempt to commit suicide”. The Committee accepted this recommendation, noting that there was still ambiguity regarding the stage at which this presumption would operate. The bill was voted upon and passed by the Rajya Sabha on 8th August 2016, and passed in the Lok Sabha on 27th March 2017. The bill was subsequently enacted in July 2018 as the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. The Mental Healthcare Act does not repeal Section 309 of the IPC, but merely provides the presumption of mental illness.
I think that this presumption or the clear and correct explanation of a person’s attempt to commit suicide that he/she is mentally ill or suffering from severe stress is enough for an amendment to the Section 309 of the IPC as it has been clearly and directly repealed by the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017. If you want to give justice or transform a person’s suicidal tendency then mental treatment is the golden tool or measure that should be opted and not any trial or fine. This can also be done by including this right under article 21 of the Indian Constitution by an amendment through an Act in the Indian Constitution.
I think that there is an immediate need for an amendment to the IPC and through all the data and through the reasoning stated above it might have become clear that in the TITLE OF THIS BLOG there is an ! (EXCLAMATION MARK) at the end.
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Keywords: Amendment in Indian Penal Code(I.P.C.), Need for an amendment, Section 309 of IPC, Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, NCRB Report for suicides in India, Article 124 of Mental Healthcare Bill.
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