Support those who attempt suicide

The government has well decided to scrap Section 309 of the IPC which makes attempt to commit suicide a criminal offence punishable with a prison term and fine. The rationale for keeping the section on the statute book has long been questioned on legal, practical and humanitarian grounds. More than one judgment from higher courts, including from a Supreme Court bench, have struck down the law, with one of them calling it ’’irrational and cruel’’. Though a constitutional bench once upheld the section, the court has later termed it anachronistic and called for its repeal. The Law Commission has recommended deletion of the section in a number of reports. The principle behind Section 309, which is a colonial legacy, is that no one has the right to take life, whether it is one’s own or another person’s. But the thinking on suicide has changed much in modern times. Even Britain, whose law was the basis for Section 309, abolished it long ago. India is now among very few countries which make attempted suicide an offence.

Stripped off legal and philosophical quibbling, the basic fact is that a suicide attempt is a cry for help from a person in distress and despair in difficult physical, mental or other circumstances. Most often these circumstances are beyond the person’s control. Those who try to take the plunge are people who find themselves unable to cope with such situations. They think shuffling off this mortal coil is easier than suffering the scorns of time and the wrongs and pangs of life. A suicide attempt does not offend or attack society like other crimes. Studies have shown that the fear of punishment is no deterrent for a person who is bent on committing suicide. Therefore, people who try to commit suicide need sympathy, understanding and help, not punishment. They need psychological or psychiatric counselling or treatment, or other kinds of help, to deal better with the situations which forced them to think of giving it up and ending it all. 

India has the largest number of suicides in the world and leads the world in suicide attempts also. It is important to provide help and aid to those who try to commit suicide. But the facilities for counselling and for treatment of people who suffer from mental illnesses, are very inadequate in the country. They should be improved and made available to all who need them. The scrapping of Section 309 should also not lead to a situation where suicide attempts are ignored and those who need help and support are denied them.

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