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Sec 309 IPC

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Sec 309 IPC

Context:

India has the highest suicide rate in the South-East Asian region, according to the World Health Organization report released last year.

  • India’s suicide rate is at 16.5 suicides per 100,000 people.
  • India also had the third-highest female suicide rate (14.7) in the world.

Suicide was decriminalised in India in 2017, but Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code still stays. 

Who can be booked under Section 309 IPC? What punishment does it carry?

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

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.

Was it repealed?

No. The section continues to remain in the IPC.

What has happened though, is that 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.

  1. Section 115(1) of The MHCA says: “Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code.”

Role and responsibility of the government:

Section 115(2) says that “The appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.”

Concerns and issues associated with this section:

  1. 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”.
  2. It is possible that unscrupulous hospital authorities may misuse this situation and charge extra to “hush up” the case by not informing the police; similar extortion is possible on the part of corrupt police personnel as well.
  3. All of this is in addition to the trauma and harassment that an already severely distressed individual and people around him/her would likely be going through.

Arguments in favour of Section 309: why it should be retained?

There are occasions when people show up at government offices and threaten to kill themselves if their demands are not met. It is in these cases, where police suspect that the person does not intend to commit suicide but is using the threat as a way to unfairly pressure or blackmail the system. And during such instances this section need to be used.

If 309 is repealed, there will be no provision to take action against those who intend to create trouble of this sort.

Need of the hour:

Section 309 IPC can be redefined in such a manner where it can still be leveraged in law and order situations, and not be used against those who are suffering from genuine mental health issues.

Observations made by the Supreme Court and Law Commissions:

In ‘Gian Kaur vs State of Punjab’, 1996, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 309.

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 2008, the Law Commission in its 210th Report, said that an attempt to suicide needed medical and psychiatric care, and not punishment.

In March 2011, the Supreme Court too recommended to Parliament that it should consider the feasibility of deleting the section.

Quote:

Sociologist Emile Durkheim had famously hypothesised that ‘suicides are a result of not just psychological or emotional factors but social factors as well’.

InstaLinks:

Prelims Link:

  1. Who can be booked under Section 309 of IPC?
  2. Key provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA), 2017.
  3. Law Commission- constitution and composition.
  4. Section 115of MHCA.

Mains Link:

In recent years, suicide cases have received alarming attention, for they account for the majority of India’s health burden. Critically analyse the high suicide death rate in the country and how India is responding to this challenge?

decriminalizing

Sources: Indian Express.