Repeal this law

The proposed decriminalisation of attempt to commit suicide is a welcome step. Under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, attempting suicide is a crime punishable with a jail term of up to a year and a fine.

 The government proposes to repeal this. The question whether or not attempting suicide should be treated a crime is a contentious one. For decades, human beings the world over have debated the philosophical questions surrounding suicide, with some describing suicide as immoral and unethical. Religious sections maintain that it is for God, not Man, to decide how and when his life must end. Others have drawn attention to the medical and social roots of suicide. A deeply contentious issue, it even divided India’s courts. A 1994 ruling by the Supreme Court that Section 309 violates the Right to Life guaranteed by Article 21 of the constitution was overruled two years later by the apex court, which upheld Section 309 as constitutional. Parliament has made several attempts since 1972 to repeal Section 309. Every one of these, however, ran aground for one reason or another. Hopefully, the present attempt to repeal Section 309 will meet with success.  

Whether or not Section 309 violates the constitution, it must be repealed as it is absurd, inappropriate and cruel. Attempts to commit suicide have their roots in a troubled mind. It is a cry for help. Instead of responding to that cry with medical treatment, and family and social support, Section 309 provides for punishment. Some argue that Section 309 deters people from committing suicide. This is factually incorrect. Indeed, it contributes to worsening the mental health situation of the concerned individual. Locking him up with hardened criminals is bound to deepen his anxieties. Besides, the possibility of imprisonment deters a person who attempted suicide from seeking medical help. Section 309 does no good to the concerned individual and serves no public purpose. 

The growing incidence of suicide in India is worrying. Attempting to prevent it through threatening punishment is hardly the way to go about it. We need to create awareness about its roots, warning signs and treatment. We need to provide children and youth with skills to deal with disappointment, failed relationships, lost livelihoods, etc. Section 309’s removal is a step in the right direction as it will encourage people inclined to suicide to talk about their fears and seek professional help.

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