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Constitutional Validity of Suicide

Constitutional Validity of Suicide

Suicide’ is defined as an act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of a sound mind. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines suicide as “The act of taking one’s own life. Also termed self-killing; self-destruction; self-slaughter; self-murder; felony-de-se; death by one’s own hand.

Indian Position Regarding Attempted Suicide

In India, attempt to suicide remains a punishable offence according to section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 309 reads thus:

Attempt to commit suicide- “Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.

The constitutional validity of Section 309(IPC) has been challenged many times in the Supreme Court and the various High Courts. It has been argued that it violates the fundamental right to life as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution under Article 21.

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution reads thus:

Right to Life and Personal Liberty- “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

 

The 5th Law Commission of India had undertaken revision of the Indian Penal Code. Headed by K.V.K. Sundaram, it submitted the 42nd Law Commission Report. The Commission recommended, inter alia, repeal of section 309. TheIndian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1978, as passed by the Rajya Sabha, accordingly provided for omission of section 309. However, before the Lok Sabha could have passed this bill, the Lok Sabha was dissolved and the Bill lapsed.

 

Judicial View

In the case of State v. Sanjay Kumar Bhatia, the Delhi High Court observed that, “the continuance of Section 309, I.P.C. is an anachronism unworthy of a human society like ours.”

The Court also observed that, “need is for humane, civilized and socially oriented outlook and penology.”

The court further observed that a man, who is driven to such frustration, that he is willing to take his own life, should be sent to a psychiatric clinic rather than a jail to mingle with criminals.

In the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India, a Division Bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India also held that section 309, IPC violates Article 21, as the right to live of which the said Article speaks of, can be said to bring in its trail the right to not live a forced life.

It further observed that, “section 309 of the Indian Penal Code deserves to be effaced from the statute book to humanize our penal laws. It is a cruel and irrational provision, and it may result in punishing a person again (doubly) who has suffered agony and would be undergoing ignominy because of his failure to commit suicide.”

These two judicial decisions were highly instrumental in challenging the constitutional validity of Section 309, but they were overruled by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India through its landmark judgment in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab.

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that Article 21 cannot be construed to include within it, the ‘right to die’ as a part of the fundamental right guaranteed therein, and therefore, section 309, I.P.C. cannot be considered as violative of Article 21.

The Court did not consider the fact that a person attempts to commit suicide for various reasons, which at times, are not in his control and therefore, the deletion of section 309 is not an invitation or encouragement to commit suicide.

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