Decriminalization of Attempted Suicide Law: Journey of Fifteen Decades

By Behere, Prakash; Rao, T. Sathyanarayana et al. | Indian Journal of Psychiatry, April-June 2015 | Go to article overview

Decriminalization of Attempted Suicide Law: Journey of Fifteen Decades


Behere, Prakash, Rao, T. Sathyanarayana, Mulmule, Akshata, Indian Journal of Psychiatry


Byline: Prakash. Behere, T. Sathyanarayana Rao, Akshata. Mulmule

Life, as they say, is a gift from god and can be given only by him. Hence, taking away life and that too one's own, has always been forbidden. Suicide has, since times immemorial, been a topic of constant controversy and unending debate. Religion, monarchy, and

colonialism all condemned and prohibited suicide. Suicide is defined as death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior. Suicide attempt, on the other hand, is a nonfatal self-directed potentially injurious behavior with any intent to die as a result of the behavior. A suicide attempt may or may not result in injury. [sup][1] The people who committed or attempted suicide have always been the subjects of wrath of the religion bound societies in the past. Following this religious trail, lawmakers in the past, served punishments to both the bodies of the victims and the survivors of a suicide attempt. Sometimes even the surviving family members were punished for their act. But liberalization and education with the help of progress in understanding the underlying causes of suicide, has led to a change in this stance worldwide.

Gravity of Problem

There has been an alarming increase in suicide rates in recent years. There were 127,151 cases of suicide noted in the National Crime Records Bureau in 2009 which have increased to 134,799 in 2013. Suicide rate that is, the incidence of suicide per one lakh population, has increased from 10.9 in 2009 to 11.4 in 2010. Family problems and illness were the two major reasons for suicides, together accounting for 46% of all suicides. Drug abuse/addiction (3.3%), love affairs (3.2%), bankruptcy or sudden change in economic status (2.0%), poverty (1.9%), and dowry dispute (1.6%) were the other causes of suicides. [sup][2]

Religion and Suicide

Almost all the religions condemn and prohibit suicide with each having an elaborate description of the punishments incurred by the offenders in their respective hells. Hinduism believes in the individual turning into a ghost and wandering between the mortals and the heavenly till the time of their actual death as per fate, whereas Islam mentions the fate of the person who commits suicide, remains to repeat the same act by which he committed suicide till eternity in the fire of hell. Some religions, like the Jews, have discrimination against those who commit suicide in the form of separate burial away from the normal deaths and limited mourning rights to the kings.

The Indian Law on Suicide and its Past

The Indian penal code drafted in 1860 on the recommendations of first law commission of India established in 1834 under the Charter Act of 1833 under the chairmanship of Thomas Babington Macaulay came into force in British-ruled India in 1862. [sup][3],[4] It has substantially survived for over 150 years without major amendments in several jurisdictions. But there has been a need to rethink and amend several of its sections as per the prevailing societal beliefs from time to time. The recent amendment of the section 377 is one such example. As per the Indian penal code, 1860, chapter XVI of offences affecting the human body and of offences affecting life, section 309 deals with Attempt to commit suicide. It states that "whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act toward the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to 1-year." [sup][5] This law has remained untouched and not amended for the past 155 years since it came into force, thus warranting a relook and repeal as per today's scientific understanding of the subject and societal attitude.

Evolving Consensus Over the Years - World View

Destigmatization of the act of suicide started with the pioneering work of Durkheim. His theory that external pressures or societal stressors, can contribute to suicidal behavior, increased awareness about suicide and helped to begin destigmatization. …

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