The government’s decision on Wednesday to decriminalise suicide and remove section 309 from the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was heralded as a landmark decision by psychiatrists in Mumbai. Experts said it would help change the prevailing social attitudes towards mental health.
The Law Commission of India, in its 210th report, had recommended that section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) of the IPC be dropped.
“The greatest good that the decision will bring is that people who attempt suicide will not suffer the stigma of being marked as a criminals, as per the book of law. It would encourage them to come out in the open and seek help,” said Dr Harish Shetty, psychiatrist. “By not terming it a crime, finally, suicide will be accepted as an illness,” said Dr Shetty.
After the report was released, the views of different states and union territories were sought on the law commission’s recommendations. So far, 18 states, including Maharashtra and four union territories have supported the deletion of section 309 of the IPC. Keeping in view these responses, the decision was taken to delete the section.
Medical experts concurred that decriminalisation of suicide would help them counsel and treat patients better. “Those who attempt suicide and are brought to us are afraid to speak to us openly. The prevailing notion is that, more than to help them, it’s just an attempt to build a case against them. They are afraid of legalities that follow,” said Dr Anjali Karira, psychiatrist. “Suicide is a culmination of mental and psychological illness, and to further punish a person does no good,” said Dr Karira.
“The law was based on the principle that committing suicide is wrong on moral grounds, and also to act as a deterrent for those contemplating suicide. However, it led to widespread stigma among people who attempted the drastic step,” said Dr Vani Kulhali, psychiatrist.