Enabling life

Enabling life

The Centre has taken a welcome decision to decriminalise suicide attempts. Most states have supported the move and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provision relating to suicide attempts is expected to be repealed soon. Section 309 prescribes imprisonment for one year or a fine or both for for a person who tries to commit suicide. It is one of the most archaic provisions of the IPC, dating from the 19th century, and it is a matter of surprise that it was allowed to continue on the statute book for so long. There have been demands for scrapping the provision from various quarters, including social activists, medical experts and the legal fraternity. Two reports of the Law Commission, in 1971 and in 2008, have made the recommendation and the government has now done well to accept the proposal.

The idea of an attempt to commit suicide as a crime arose from social attitudes which prevailed long ago but have largely undergone changes now. It is true that there is strong religious disapproval of suicide but the laws cannot follow religious tenets on many issues. Suicide has had different meanings depending on varying cultural and social values, and in certain situations it has even been glorified.  It is also among the most discussed philosophical issues.

But in a modern society suicidal behaviour is most commonly considered an ailment that can be treated rather than a crime to be punished for. A suicide attempt is an act of desperation and a cry for help. Understanding, counselling and medical treatment, including psychiatric help, can cure most of those suffering from suicidal tendencies. Suicide rates are a measure of the health of a society. Social conflicts, personal problems and increasing pressures on individuals in a fast-changing society can aggravate such tendencies but the remedy is not prosecution and imprisonment.

There is no evidence that fear of violation of law and the prospect of imprisonment have been deterrents against suicide. Abolition of penal provisions against suicide attempts has not resulted in an increase in the number of suicides or attempts anywhere in the world. In fact, most countries have scrapped the penal provision and it exists only in a few countries like India and Pakistan.  Life is precious and most of those who have survived their suicide attempts come to regret their action later. There is no need to punish them with imprisonment again.

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