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Most archaic laws that punishes attempts to commit suicide – Section...

  Jul 14, 2020

Most archaic laws that punishes attempts to commit suicide – Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — Questions and issues around an archaic Section of the law.

Who can be booked under Section 309 IPC?

Anyone who survives an attempted suicide can be booked under Section 309 IPC, which deals with “Attempt to commit suicide”.

What punishment does it carry?

The section reads: “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 (or with fine, or with both)”.

Why is it there to begin with?

The law, brought in by the British in the 19th century, reflected the thinking of the time, when killing or attempting to kill oneself was considered a crime against the state, as well as against religion.

But wasn’t Section 309 repealed a few years back?

No. The section continues to remain in the IPC. Though the Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA), 2017, which came into force in July 2018, has significantly reduced the scope for the use of Section 309 IPC — and made the attempt to commit suicide punishable only as an exception.

What problems can arise out of the use of this Section?

Use of this Section can potentially deprive a victim of treatment in the golden hour, as hospitals wait for a go-ahead from police in what would be seen as a “medico-legal case”.

But is there another side to this story?

There were occasions when people showed up at government offices and threatened to kill themselves if their demands were not met. It is in these cases, that this section is used.

What attempts have been made to repeal Section 309 in the past?

The process has been ongoing for years. In 1971, the Law Commission in its 42nd Report recommended the repeal of Section 309 IPC.

The IPC (Amendment) Bill, 1978, was even passed by Rajya Sabha, but before it could be passed by Lok Sabha, Parliament was dissolved, and the Bill lapsed.

In ‘Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab, 1996, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 309.  In 2008, the Law Commission in its 210th Report, said that an attempt to suicide needed medical and psychiatric care, and not punishment. In 2011, the Supreme Court too recommended to Parliament that it should consider the feasibility of deleting the section.