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Section 309 of IPC: Attempt to Commit Suicide

Section 309 of IPC

Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code addresses the issue of attempting suicide. It stipulates that anyone making such an attempt and taking steps toward it may face a punishment of up to one year of simple imprisonment, a fine, or both.

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In 1994, the Supreme Court highlighted the dual nature of fundamental rights. For instance, the right to freedom of speech also includes the right to remain silent, and the right to engage in business also encompasses the right not to do business. The concept of the “right to life,” protected by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, was further expanded in the P. Rathinam case by the Supreme Court. It argued that this right should also encompass theright not to live a forced life” or the “right to die.” However, Section 309 of the IPC continued to impose penalties for attempted suicide, including imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine.

Recently, the Indian government decided to decriminalize ‘attempt to suicide’ by removing it from the Indian Penal Code. This decision followed a recommendation by the Law Commission of India six years ago, which emphasized that taking one’s own life should be seen as an expression of profound unhappiness rather than a criminal act.

The decriminalization of suicide signifies the establishment of the “right to die,” a move aimed at promoting humanization. This right is seen as essential for personal autonomy and bodily integrity, aligning with the principles of humanization.

Some reservations argued by specialist:

  1. India is grappling with one of the highest suicide rates globally, trailing just behind China. Some are concerned that decriminalizing suicide attempts could potentially exacerbate this problem.
  2. The Bihar government has emphasized the importance of caution, emphasizing that removing legal consequences for suicide attempts may reduce the deterrent effect on potential suicide-bombers.
  3. The Madhya Pradesh government is worried that repealing this law might weaken the effectiveness of Section 306, which deals with cases of abetment to suicide.

Certainly, the concepts of restricting “freedom of speech” under certain legal conditions and the right to life under Article 21 are quite different. For instance, if the primary earner of a family takes their own life, it can push the entire family into financial hardship, making suicide a matter beyond personal choice.

Hence, the matter of decriminalizing suicide is a multifaceted one, taking into account India’s distinct socio-cultural circumstances. It’s crucial to explore alternative solutions through extensive public and parliamentary discussions to address this challenging issue effectively.

Suicide is a deeply personal tragedy that not only takes a life prematurely but also leaves a lasting impact on the loved ones and communities left behind. In our country, nearly a million people lose their lives to suicide every year. Various factors contribute to these tragic events, including job-related stress, isolation, abuse, family conflicts, mental health issues, alcohol dependence, financial hardships, and more. The National Center for Suicide Prevention compiles data from law enforcement reports to understand the scope of this issue.

The National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) suicide report calculates suicide rates using projected population figures for non-census years, while the 2011 Census Report population data was used for that year. In 2020, a total of 153,052 suicides were reported in India, marking a 10.0% increase over 2019, with the suicide rate rising by 8.7%. This rate grew from 10.3 in 2016 to 11.3 in 2020.

Among the states, Maharashtra had the highest number of suicides, with 19,909 cases, followed by Tamil Nadu (16,883), Madhya Pradesh (14,578), West Bengal (13,103), and Karnataka (12,259), making up 13.0%, 11.0%, 9.5%, 8.6%, and 8.0% of total suicides, respectively. The remaining 23 states and 8 Union Territories accounted for 49.9% of the total. Surprisingly, despite being the most populous state in the country, Uttar Pradesh only contributed 3.1% of the total reported suicides.

Among the Union Territories, Delhi, the most populous, recorded the highest number of suicides (3,142), followed by Puducherry (408). In 2020, a total of 23,855 suicides were documented in India’s 53 major cities. Several states, including Uttarakhand (82.8%), Mizoram (54.3%), Himachal Pradesh (46.7%), Arunachal Pradesh (42.9%), Assam (36.8%), and Jharkhand (30.5%), saw significant increases in suicide rates in 2020 compared to 2019. Conversely, Manipur (24.1%), Puducherry (17.2%), Uttar Pradesh (12.1%), Haryana (4.5%), and Chandigarh (2.3%) reported significant decreases in suicide cases.

Suicide rates are a crucial metric the NCRB uses to assess and compare data. In 2020, India’s overall suicide rate stood at 11.3 per 100,000 people. Some regions, like the Andaman & Nicobar Islands (45.0), Sikkim (42.5), Chhattisgarh (26.4), Puducherry (26.3), and Kerala (24.0), had higher rates.

When it comes to female suicide attempts, ‘marriage-related issues,’ particularly ‘dowry-related problems,’ and ‘impotency/infertility’ were significant factors. The age groups most affected by suicide were 18-30 and 30-45, with 34.4% and 31.4% of suicides occurring in these groups, respectively. Among minors (under 18), family problems (4,006), love affairs (1,337), and illness (1,327) were the primary reasons for suicides.

Major Causes of Suicide in India

According to the NCRB Report for 2020, a significant number of suicides were attributed to ‘family problems,’ making up 33.6 percent of the total cases, while ‘illness’ was a factor in 18.0 percent of suicides that year. Additionally, there were various other factors contributing to suicide, which we’ll explore further.

  1. Drug abuse/addiction (6.0 percent),
  2. Marriage related issues’ (5.0 percent),
  3. Love affairs (4.4 percent),
  4. Bankruptcy or indebtedness (3.4 percent),
  5. Unemployment (2.3 percent),
  6. Failure in examination (1.4 percent),
  7. Professional/career problem (1.2 percent), and
  8. Poverty (1.2 percent).

In 2020, a heartbreaking total of 10,677 individuals in the agriculture sector, comprising 5,579 farmers/cultivators and 5,098 agricultural laborers, tragically took their own lives. This represented approximately 7.0 percent of all suicide cases (out of a total of 153,052) in the country. Among the farmers/cultivators, 5,335 were men, while 244 were women. Among the agricultural laborers, there were 4,621 male victims and 477 female victims in the year 2020.

Mass Suicides

In the year 2020, India witnessed 121 distressing cases of mass and family suicides, resulting in a tragic loss of 272 lives. Among the victims, 148 were married individuals, while 124 were unmarried. Tamil Nadu had the highest reported incidents with 22 cases, followed by Andhra Pradesh (19 cases), Madhya Pradesh (18 cases), Rajasthan (15 cases), and Assam (10 cases). These heartbreaking events claimed the lives of 45 people in Tamil Nadu, 46 in Andhra Pradesh, 39 in Madhya Pradesh, 36 in Rajasthan, and 10 in Assam. Notably, out of 53 cities studied, 10 recorded instances of mass and family suicides, totaling 26 cases in these areas, leading to the tragic loss of 63 lives in 2020, including 40 married individuals and 23 singles.

Mass suicides have unfortunately become a recurring issue in India, with several incidents grabbing national attention every year. One such heart-wrenching incident occurred on December 6, 2021, in Bhopal when a family comprising a 47-year-old auto parts merchant, his 67-year-old mother, his 45-year-old wife, a grocery store owner, and their two daughters took their own lives. The main reason behind this tragic act was their inability to repay a loan from a moneylender. Even more disturbing, the two young girls had attempted to poison the family pets before the tragedy unfolded. Despite being rushed to the hospital by concerned neighbors, the entire family succumbed to the poison within three days. This incident drew attention to the long-standing issue of predatory lending, leaving the Chief Minister, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, deeply shocked. In their 13-page message, the family’s final words were, “Hum buzdil nahi, majboor hain” (we’re not cowards, we’re powerless).

Additionally, on January 3, 2021, a family of four, including two minors, was found hanging from a tree in a village in the Modasa rural area of Aravalli, two days after they had gone missing. The police investigation concluded that this was indeed a mass suicide, primarily driven by financial difficulties. The family’s breadwinner had been unemployed since the lockdown, highlighting the severe economic constraints that can lead to such tragic outcomes.

Read Also: Challenges in Drafting of Our Constitution

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