Decriminalisation of Suicide

Vipin Mittal is a 2nd year student of JGLS, Sonepat

In the year 1860, the British passed the Indian Penal Code with Section 309, which criminalized Attempt to Suicide. Before I argue in favor of decriminalization of suicide, a look at the reasons as to why this provision could have been enacted by the British would be helpful.

With the circumstances of those days in mind, there could be two reasons for this. Firstly, the value of human labor was immense in those days, which made it important for the colonizers to ensure their workers do not give up on their lives because of the working conditions. With the practice of Bonded Labor present in great number, and the Bourgeoisie required their labor, taking away their right on their own life would seem a great way to ensure they die only of natural causes.

Another reason could be the practice of Sati. In this practice, widows voluntarily sacrificed their life after their husbands’ death. This practice was something that was irking the humanitarian bones of the English. In order to curb this practice of voluntarily sacrificing one’s life, the colonizers could have criminalized attempt to suicide.

This provision is something that represents what is wrong with our legal system. To punish a person who is already struggling to live, suffering from some form of mental disorder or emotional trauma or societal problems, and punishing that person can solve none of these problems.

One thing that needs to be noted here is that many of the judgments that uphold the validity of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code do it only on Constitutional basis and never question the humanitarian aspect of the law. The stand that I am taking has been reiterated number of times in the Court of law. An amendment was introduced in the legislature to omit Section 309, but the Parliament was dissolved before the amendment could be passed and the need to introduce this has not been felt again by the legislature.

Even the Law Commission of India in its 42nd Report suggested that the said provision must be omitted in 1971. This view was again held in the 210th report of the commission where the provision was rendered inhumane and hence had suggested decriminalization of Suicide.

A person attempting to commit suicide is not a threat to the society, neither is he, what the law calls, a legally sane person. An attempt to suicide is a cry for help, which can only be addressed through medical means and not penal means. A person imprisoned for the “crime” of committing does not get reformed or does not get deterred but is made emotionally weaker and mentally even more traumatized because of the brute environment of the prisons.

Let us imagine a situation where a person who is emotionally in a weak state for any imaginable reason like death of a family member, financially weak position, break up with girlfriend etc. In that state of depression, the person decides to take his life because he doesn’t want to live anymore.

What the current law suggests is that such person should either be successful in his attempt to take his own life or that he should be punished in case he survives. This is an erroneous position as this provision in a way ensures that people try harder to take their lives and not do it “half heartedly”.

So in the above example if the person survives, not only will he be in a state of depression but will also be behind bars for his luck of surviving his suicide attempt.

I think it has been long since we have been living with such inhumane laws and its time that more humane ways of dealing with such situations be introduced in law.

“Let them think what they liked, but I didn't mean to drown myself. I meant to swim till I sank — but that's not the same thing.”

-Joseph Conrad

Importance of –The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

A 2nd year student of W.B.N.U.J.S, Kolkata

 Reported Crimes Against Women”[1] – Year 1999-2000: 1,55,553[2]; Year 2005: 1,41,373[3]; Year 2010: 2,13,585[4]; Year 2013: 2,95,930.[5]On perusing the above data it can be seen that, crimes which are committed within the four walls of a woman’s house are categorised   under merely two heads, namely – Homicide for Dowry/Dowry Deaths or their attempts (Section 302/304-B IPC) and Torture, both mental and physical (Section 498-A IPC).  Even though the number of ‘reported crimes’ against women are increasing at an alarming rate and considering the fact that in our patriarchal society more crimes are being committed than are  reported,social activists, feminists and several non-governmental organisations have  persistently  demanded  bringing amendments to the present criminal laws and if needed, also to enact  specialised legislations.

Before the introduction of ‘The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Bill, 2000’, several other amendments and new laws were introduced such as the Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 and the Criminal Laws Amendment Act, 1983 – which specifically worked towards  improving the laws that govern domestic violence against women. To some extent they did a good job; for example, by inserting Section 498A of IPC, violence in the form of ‘torture’ was introduced and it provided stern punishments to offenders causing dowry death, suicides or tortures inflicted on women in pursuit of dowry demands.

But does restricting the definition of ‘torture’ to merely mental and physical suffice in dealing with several other harms such as economic and sexual? What about the woman who is not the wife of the man she is living with? Violence inflicted towards her cannot be   for the purpose of obtaining of dowry and hence, neither the Indian Penal Code, 1860 nor any specialised laws can come to the rescue of such women. ‘The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005’ (hereinafter written as DV Act) was drafted keeping in mind all these issues. It widens the scope of ‘cruelty’ – in the name of domestic violence. It has categorised abuses as physical/sexual/verbal/ emotional and economic.[6]It has addressed a woman in general – she can be someone’s daughter, wife, mother and even a live-in partner. The DV Act has taken care of the hindrances and social apathies that a woman faces after reporting a criminal complaint and how these problems discourage other women to raise their voices against such crimes. The DV Act introduced provisions such as alternate residence for ensuring that the victim is not  thrown out of her house by the alleged offenders[7], protection of victim and her children by appointing ‘Protection Officers’[8], monetary reliefs such as loss of earnings, medical expenses[9], custody of children till the final court hearing[10] etc.These provisions have become a great boon for all those women who had earlier found it impossible to get out the vicious circle of the society and file a criminal complaint against their own relatives and live-in partners. The DV Act has also given a fair chance to all those voluntary organisations which have always worked selflessly and intervened to help these women in their misery. These organisations are empowered to act as intermediaries[11] between the alleged offenders and the victims in domestic violence matters.

But since perfection is hard to be achieved, the DV Act has led to debates on topics, such as the non-availability of provisions where the relatives of the man (such as his mother, father, sister etc. who are also living with the couple) can come to court complaining domestic violence inflicted against them by a woman residing with them (that can be their daughter, daughter-in-law, live-in partner of their son/brother etc.). Also, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, post-2005 and till date, do not indicate that crimes against women in the name of domestic violence have reduced to a satisfying number. But it is equally unfair to blame an Act if one finds several lacunae due to the lack of budgetary provisions[12]to successfully implement the Act.

[1] “Although Women may be victims of any of the general crimes such as ‘Murder’, ‘Robbery’, ‘Cheating’, etc., only the crimes which are directed specifically against Women are characterised as ‘Crimes Against Women’.”http://ncrb.nic.in/ciiprevious/Data/CD-CII2005/cii-2005/CHAP5.pdf [Last seen on July 5, 2014].

[2]http://ncrb.nic.in/ciiprevious/Data/CD-CII2005/cii-2005/CHAP5.pdf [Last seen on July 5, 2014].

[3]http://ncrb.nic.in/ [Last seen on July 5, 2014].

[4]Id.

[5] Id.

[6]The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 § 3.

[7]Id., § 6, § 17, § 18, § 19

[8]Id., § 2(n), § 8 & § 9.

[9]Id., § 2(k) and § 20.

[10]Id., § 21.

[11]Id., § 10.

[12]BhumikaJhamb, The Missing Link in the Domestic Violence Act, EPW, August 13, 2011, 33. The writer here has provided extensive insight regarding lack of central as well as state government funding so as to fulfil requirements regarding successful implementation of DV Act. Fore.g. – Funding’s to construct shelter homes, allowances to be provided to Protection Officers etc.