Among some of the more problematic provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), of 1860, are: Absent from the proposed Bharatiya Nayaya Sanhita (BNS) It is Section 309 of the IPC, which punishes attempted suicide. This clause, one of the oldest in the IPC, has long been criticized, and was mostly made redundant by an Act of Parliament that came into force in 2018. However, it remains part of the Code and, therefore, vulnerable to misuse.
The section punishes anyone who attempts to kill themselves – which is usually understood as a last resort for severely distressed individuals – with imprisonment and/or a fine. Article 309 of the IPC states: “Whoever attempts suicide and commits any act that leads to the commission of this crime shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a period which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.”
This law, introduced by the British in the nineteenth century, reflects the thinking prevailing at the time that murder or attempted suicide was considered a crime against the state as well as against religion.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, the burden of deaths due to suicide in India rose by 7.2 per cent between 2020-21, with a total of 1,64,033 deaths. The National Council for Social Research, which collects data from the police on recorded suicides, also reported that more than 100,000 people die by suicide every year in India.
So how has this provision changed since the law was passed?
In 1971, the Law Commission in its 42nd report recommended the abolition of Section 309 of the IPC.
To further this goal, the Janata Party government headed by Prime Minister Morarji Desai introduced the IPC (Amendment) Bill, 1978. The bill was introduced and passed in 1978. Rajya Sabhabut before it is cleared Lok SabhaParliament was dissolved and the bill fell.
In Gyan Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996), a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 309 IPC.
However, in 2008, the Law Commission, in its 210th report, said that a suicide attempt requires medical and psychological care and not punishment.
In March 2011, the Supreme Court also recommended to Parliament that it should consider deleting this section from the IPC.
However, concrete action could finally be taken with the passage of the Mental Health Care Act (MHCA) Bill 2017, which came into effect in 2018. The law made it clear that Section 309 IPC could be used to punish attempted suicide only as an exception.
Section 115(1) of the MHA Act states: “Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, any person who attempts suicide shall, unless proven otherwise, be presumed to be under extreme stress and shall not be prosecuted.” and punished under the Indian Penal Code.” Code said.
Section 115(2) of the Mental Health Act states that it is the duty of the “appropriate government” to “provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to any person who is under severe distress and attempts suicide, in order to reduce the risk of recurrence”. to attempt suicide.”
So, how effective is this law in deterring the use of Section 309 IPC?
The restrictions imposed on the use of Section 309 under the provisions of the MHCA were insufficient as they merely created a direction under another law, while allowing the offense itself to survive the IPC. Thus, even after the enactment of the Mental Health Act, there were reports of alleged misuse of this section.
On May 20, 2020, an inmate of Bhundsi jail in Gurgaon, who allegedly tried to kill himself using scissors, was reported booked under Section 309 of the IPC. Again, on June 8, 2020, an eloping couple allegedly attempted to commit suicide at Ashok Nagar police station in Bengaluru by consuming hair dye. They have been booked under Section 309 of the IPC, local media reported.
Several senior police officers said that on many occasions, there is a lack of awareness among officers at the police station level about the relatively new MHCA, and they simply rely on the IPC. However, the charge under Section 309 was often dropped later, after consultations with the senior officer, Harsh Poddar, who was then Superintendent of Police, Beed, Maharashtra. Indian Express in 2020.
So does removing the section in the proposed BNS finally close that chapter?
Although the new bill appears to remove this section from the law books, it does not completely decriminalize the crime of attempted suicide.
Thus, Article 224 of the proposed Social Services Law states: “Whoever attempts suicide with the intent to force or prevent any public servant from carrying out his official duty, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both, or with community service.
This essentially creates a distortion in this provision – an attempted suicide remains a punishable offense if it is to prevent a public servant from acting. An example of this is a protester trying to sacrifice himself to prevent the police from arresting other demonstrators.
Also, Section 224 of the proposed BNS allows community service as punishment, which is not available in Section 309 IPC.
What other provisions in the proposed new laws address issues related to suicide and mental health?
There are two sections in the proposed BNS that penalize incitement to suicide.
Article 106 says: “If any person commits suicide, whoever incites to commit such suicide shall be punished with imprisonment… (up to) ten years and shall also be liable to a fine.”
Article 105 states: “If any person under eighteen years of age, any person suffering from a mental illness, any delirious person, or any drunk person commits suicide, whoever instigates the commission of such suicide shall be punished with death or imprisonment.” Life imprisonment, or imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years, and shall also be punished with a fine.
The Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita Act, 2023, which seeks to replace the Criminal Procedure Code, also includes a provision for suicide, but not as a crime. Section 194 of the proposed BNSS Act addresses the ability of the police to inquire about and report cases of suicide, etc.
Articles 367 to 369 of the proposed Social Security Law specify criminal procedures in cases where the accused is a mentally ill person, the mentally ill person is tried in court, and the mentally ill person is released pending investigation or trial.
Section 376 of the proposed BNSS sets out the procedure in which it is reported that a prisoner with a mental illness is able to defend himself; Article 377 deals with the procedure by which detainees with mental illness are declared eligible for release; Article 378 deals with handing over persons with mental disabilities to a relative or friend for their care.