Section 309 says: “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.”
Even though words like’ I, me and myself’ are an intrinsic part of our vocabulary, there are factors that force us to question and reconsider just how much of ourselves and our breathing body are we truly capable of dictating and controlling. When it is ‘my’ life, aren’t ‘I’ entitled to choose when to end it? The ethics and morality aspect of the whole issue has been addressed, re-addressed and done to death with. It is one of those debates, where, for every argument there is a counter argument. The criminalization of suicide is something most countries in the world have done away with. Only Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and India still persist with this highly objectionable law.
But recently, The Law Commission, making a sympathetic and positive gesture, has now recommended to the Centre that it repeal the outdated law, mentioned in Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which deemed making attempt to suicide an offence punishable under law. The Commission which is currently headed by Justice A.R. Lakshmanan, has in its 210th report (submitted to the government) commented: “Section 309 provides double punishment for a person who has already got fed up with his life and desires to end it. Section 309 is also a stumbling block to prevention of suicides and improving the access of medical care to those who have attempted suicide.” The Commission also added, “It is unreasonable to inflict punishment upon a person who, on account of family discord, destitution, loss of a dear relation or cause of a like nature, overcomes the instinct of self-preservation and decides to take his own life. In such a case, the unfortunate person deserves sympathy, counseling and appropriate treatment, and certainly not the prison. Section 309 needs to be effaced from the statute book because the provision is inhuman, irrespective of whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional.”
According to reports, in 2006, as many as 1,18,112 people in the country took their own lives as against 1,13,914 suicides in 2005. Out of every three cases of suicide reported in the country every 15 minutes, one is committed by a youth in the age group of 15-29. The percentage of youths in this age group committing suicide is around 35.7% and the figure comes to 34.5 % in case of people aged between 30 and 44. It has also been found that more than 50% of youths of college going age have contemplated suicide at least once in their lives. This shows the extent to which such an act is consciously or sub-consciously imbibed in the brain. In most case death is seen as a liberator, more so if the person might be suffering form depression, frustration or desperation. What most evades people who don’t really buy the whole religious argument against suicide stating that ‘as we are not able to create life hence we have no right to take it as well’ , is the illogicality of government decrees proclaiming suicide as an offence when it would in no way deter the commission of such an act. The eternal question- ‘if this is my life then don’t I have the right to choose where it stops?” keeps on popping up in our heads.
The stigma attached to this act, in most cases dissuades survivors to go ahead and ask for help. The tag of ‘offense punishable under law’ only worsens their plight. It is high time for the law makers of this country to seriously consider and think over the views of the World Health Organization and the International Association for Suicide Prevention, France while looking at the examples of countries where the laws criminalizing suicide have been repealed, and should successively follow suit.
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