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Fast unto death punishable by law

THE NARMADA bachao andolan activist Medha Patkar has been booked for attempt to commit suicide by resorting to hunger strike. Under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, whoever attempts to commit suicide and abets the commission of it is liable to be punished with simple imprisonment for a term, which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

india Updated: Apr 10, 2006 00:56 IST

THE NARMADA bachao andolan activist Medha Patkar has been booked for attempt to commit suicide by resorting to hunger strike. Under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, whoever attempts to commit suicide and abets the commission of it is liable to be punished with simple imprisonment for a term, which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

Medha Patkar was on hunger strike in Delhi for more than eight days and her condition was pronounced critical, however, doctors attending on her claimed that she was recuperating. “There is no doubt over the cause of Medha Patkar for the displaced population owing to raising height of the Sardar Sarovasr Project dam,” said Advocate Mehrotra, but he added that the means to which she resorted amounted to act of coercion, as per law. Therefore, she was liable to be booked under Section 309 of he IPC.

If a person openly declares that he will sit on a fast unto death and then proceeds to refuse all nourishment until the stage is reached when there is imminent danger of death ensuing he can be held guilty under the Section but when the evidence falls short of this, it cannot be said to be sufficient to sustain the charge, says the book ‘Be your own lawyer’ by Advocate Tehemton Dalal.

For example, a village woman of twenty was ill treated by her husband. There was a quarrel between the two and the husband threatened that he would beat her. Late that night the woman, taking her six month-old babies in her arms, slipped away from the house. After she had gone some distance she heard somebody coming up behind her and when she turned round and saw her husband pursuing her, she panicked and jumped into a well, along with the baby in her arms.

The result was that the baby died but the woman recovered. One of the charges against her was attempt to commit suicide. It was held that she should not be convicted under Section of an attempt to commit suicide, for the word “attempt” connotes some conscious endeavour to accomplish the act, and the accused in jumping down the well was not thinking at all of taking her own life but only of escaping from her husband.

Many countries have been demanding the abolition of suicide as an act of offence on the grounds that it was the manifestation of a diseased condition of mind deserving treatment and care rather than as an offence to be visited with punishment. However, in India Section 309 has not been abolished, said Advocate Mehrotra.