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'Decriminalise attempt to suicide'

The law Commission of India has recommended scrapping of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that makes attempt to suicide a punishable offence, reports Satya Prakash.

delhi Updated: Oct 27, 2008 00:44 IST
Satya Prakash

The law Commission of India has recommended scrapping of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that makes attempt to suicide a punishable offence.

Describing attempt to suicide as a “manifestation of a diseased condition of mind”, the commission said: “It would not be just and fair to inflict additional legal punishment on a person who has already suffered agony and ignominy in his failure to commit suicide.”

It said: “Life is a gift given by God and He alone can take it. Its premature termination cannot be approved by any society. But when a troubled individual tries to end his life, it would be cruel and irrational to visit him with punishment on his failure to die.”

Section 309 IPC makes attempt to suicide and “any act towards the commission of such an offence” punishable with simple imprisonment for a term that can extend to a year or with fine, or both.

In its 210th report on Humanisation and Decriminalisation of Attempt to Suicide, the commission said Section 309 needed to be scrapped as the provision was inhuman, irrespective of whether it was constitutional or unconstitutional. The repeal of the anachronistic law would save many lives and relieve the distressed, it said.

This is the second time that the commission has recommended repeal of the Section 309. It made a similar recommendation in its 42nd report in 1971.

The panel took note of the fact that countries in Europe and North America had repealed such provisions and the World Health Organisation, International Association for Suicide Prevention and Indian Psychiatric Society were in favour of doing away with Section 309.

The report, presented to Law Minister HR Bhardwaj last week by commission chairman Justice AR Lakshmanan, however, stressed that assisting or encouraging another person to (attempt to) commit suicide must not go unpunished. Describing Section 309 as a “double punishment” for a person fed up with life, the report said it “is also a stumbling block in prevention of suicides and improving the access of medical care”.

The report said: “It is unreasonable to inflict punishment upon a person who on account of family discord, destitution, loss of a dear relation or other cause of a like nature…decides to take his own life. In such a case, the unfortunate person deserves sympathy, counselling and appropriate treatment, and certainly not the prison.”