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Constitutionality of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860

Constitutionality of Section 309

Constitutionality of Section 309 of the IPC: To grasp the legality of Section 309 within the 1860 Code, it’s important to consider key court rulings from various parts of India, which we’ve outlined below for your reference.

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Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra (1986)

The issue of whether Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, was constitutional or not was first brought before the Bombay High Court in the case of Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra in 1986. In this case, the court presented its arguments and reasoning for ultimately deciding to strike down Section 309. Let’s delve into the details of their rationale below.

  1. The desire to end one’s life is a natural human emotion, and it’s important to understand that the circumstances leading to this desire are often the result of personal, voluntary decisions.
  2. It’s crucial to differentiate between the reasons prompting a person to contemplate suicide and the act itself. The desire to end one’s life is a natural emotion, while the methods used to do so may not be.
  3. Suicide or suicide attempts are not considered a normal part of life; they are exceptional circumstances often driven by various factors such as mental health issues, physical ailments, unbearable living conditions, or a loss of interest in life.
  4. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code faces criticism for its lack of a clear definition and for treating all suicide attempts the same, regardless of the underlying circumstances.
  5. This lack of distinction is problematic, especially when compared to the legal definitions and consequences of murder in Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code.
  6. The punishment under Section 309 does not seem to deter future suicide attempts and may be counterproductive, particularly for individuals struggling with mental health issues.
  7. Those attempting suicide due to mental illnesses need psychiatric therapy, not imprisonment, to address their condition effectively.
  8. People facing severe physical ailments, incurable diseases, or other challenging circumstances require supportive care and facilities, not punitive measures.
  9. Ultimately, Section 309 was declared unconstitutional by the court as it violated constitutional articles, specifically Articles 14 and 21.
  10. The striking down of Section 309 highlights the need for a more compassionate and understanding approach to individuals facing the complex challenges associated with suicide attempts.

Chenna Jagadeeswar and Anr. v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1987)

In the 1988 case of Chenna Jagdeshwar v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the Andhra Pradesh High Court ruled that the right to end one’s own life is not considered a fundamental right protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the court found that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with attempted suicide, is not in violation of the constitution. The key points from the High Court’s decision are summarized below.

  1. The court’s rationale for upholding the legality of Section 309 stems from the concern that if it were declared unconstitutional, Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, which deals with intentionally aiding and persuading someone to commit suicide, might also become ineffective. This could potentially allow those who assist in suicide to escape legal consequences.
  2. It’s important to acknowledge that in a society that often falls short in addressing the challenges faced by troubled individuals, punishing them for seeking self-help or self-deliverance may seem unjust. However, the real question here is whether it’s appropriate for the government to endorse the idea that individuals who can’t lead a dignified life are encouraged to end it.
  3. It’s a prudent approach to be cautious in a country like India, where individuals often endure significant pressures. Granting a right to self-destruction while excluding legal oversight could be seen as a step backward in addressing human suffering and motivation. Such a move could lead to inconsistencies and undesirable consequences.
  4. Consequently, the Court has determined that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, is lawful and does not infringe upon the rights enshrined in Articles 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
  5. In the specific case at hand, the appellant had taken the lives of his four children and attempted suicide, although the reasons behind these actions were unclear. Given the seriousness of the situation, the Hon’ble Court affirmed the appellant’s conviction under Section 309 as entirely justified.

P. Rathinam v. Union of India (1994)

In the 1994 case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India, the Supreme Court supported the Bombay High Court’s 1986 decision in the State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubal case. In this important ruling, the Supreme Court affirmed an individual’s right to choose to end their own life and deemed Section 309 as unconstitutional. To better understand the Supreme Court’s varied viewpoints in this case, we’ll outline them below.

  1. The Court’s perspective on suicide shifted, recognizing it as a psychological issue rather than a criminal act. The Supreme Court supported the view that suicide is essentially a call for help, not a plea for punishment, as suggested by Dr. (Mrs.) Dastoor.
  2. The Court disagreed with the Andhra Pradesh High Court’s opinion that if Section 309 (related to attempted suicide) were declared unconstitutional, Section 306 (related to aiding suicide) would also be affected. They clarified that these sections deal with different situations: one involves a person taking their own life, while the other deals with assisting someone else in ending their life.
  3. The Court determined that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 should be repealed to promote more humane legal regulations. This section was deemed cruel and unjust as it could lead to punishing a person twice, once for the failed suicide attempt and the suffering that follows. Attempted suicide doesn’t violate religious, moral, or public principles, and it doesn’t harm others, making state intervention unnecessary.
  4. The Apex Court concluded that Section 309 violates Article 21, which protects personal liberty, and therefore, it is considered void. This legal change reflects a more compassionate approach to individuals facing mental health challenges.

Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996)

In the 1996 case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court’s constitution bench ruled that Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life, does not encompass the right to end one’s own life or be assisted in doing so. This decision brought some much-needed clarity to the legality of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (1860). The Supreme Court’s key insights on this matter are outlined below:

  1. The concept of the “sanctity of life” is incredibly important. Article 21 of our constitution guarantees the protection of life and personal liberty. However, it’s essential to note that this protection doesn’t extend to include the right to end one’s own life, even if there may be philosophical arguments in favor of such a right. The court has ruled that Article 21, which safeguards the “right to life,” does not encompass the right to die as a fundamental right.
  2. Article 21’s use of the word “life” has been interpreted to mean life with human dignity. This means that anything contributing to a dignified life can be included within its scope. However, acts that extinguish life, such as suicide, are not compatible with the right to life itself. In essence, the right to die contradicts the right to life, as death is the opposite of life.
  3. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has ruled that there’s no requirement for a minimum sentence for the offense of attempting suicide. The imposition of imprisonment or a fine is at the discretion of the court. Taking all these factors into account, the Apex Court has concluded that Section 309, which deals with attempted suicide, is not in violation of our constitutional provisions and is therefore considered valid.

Read Also: Section 309 of IPC: Attempt to Commit Suicide

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