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Punishment for Attempt to commit suicide in India (Section 309 of IPC)

“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.”

‘Attempt’ means “To make an effort to effect some object; to endeavour; an effort or endeavour to effect the accomplishment of an act; an intention to do a thing combined with an act which falls short of the thing intended”.

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An attempt to commit a crime is an act done with intent to commit that crime, and forming part of a series of acts which would constitute its actual commission if it were not interrupted. The offence of attempting to commit a crime may be committed in cases in which the offender voluntarily desists from the actual commission of the crime itself.

Preparation to commit an offence is not attempt. Covert or overt acts proceeding to committing an offence with an intention to commit the offence amount to attempts. Intention to commit the offence amounts to attempts. Intention to commit a particular offence, some act necessarily done towards the commission of the offence and proximity of such act to the intended result constitute “attempt”.

In the expression “Does any act towards the commission of such offence”, ‘such offence’ refers to suicide.

‘Suicide’ is no crime under IPC. Its attempt alone is punishable under Section 309. The fact that an attempt to commit suicide is made a crime shows that in the eye of the law suicide is not necessarily the outcome of deranged intellect, but it may be a crime committed by a person in his sober sense.

There can be no doubt but that persons are often driven to commit suicide owing to poverty or distress, failure of love, loss of honour and fortune, loss in business, while others are driven to self-effacement under the impulse of religion, as is witnessed in the case of sati and of those who starve or torture themselves to death to attain nirvan or a supreme; beatitude by absorption in the Divine essence.

A person who feels moody and melancholy and threatens to commit suicide may have the intention, but he cannot be convicted of an attempt. An attempt implies at least an act towards the commission of suicide, such as drowning or poisoning or shooting oneself. If a person throws himself into a well with a view to drowning himself, and is rescued, he is guilty of such an attempt as is punishable under Section 309.

But if he runs to well with a view to drown himself, but is rescued before he throws himself into it, he could not be convicted of an attempt for his act was a mere preparation to commit an act, and before committing which he might have changed his mind.

Mens rea is one of the essential elements of the offence of attempt to commit suicide. If, therefore, a person takes an overdose of poison by mistake, or in a state of intoxication, or in order to evade his arrest by his pursuers, he could not be held accountable for his action. But if there was an intention to commit suicide, and an attempt for that purpose was made, the accused could not escape responsibility for his action except, on the ground of insanity.

In Dwarka Poonja v. Emperor [14 Bom LR 146], the accused jumped into a well to avoid and escape from the police and came out of the well of his own accord. He was convicted of this offence but his conviction was quashed by the High Court on the ground that he had no intention to commit suicide.

Suicide of course implies total deprivation of life. Mutilation of one’s person is not suicide. So a person could not be convicted under Section 309 for the offence for emasculating himself.

When a person commences for fast-unto-death or hunger strike to pressurize some authority to concede demands, the intention of a person on a hunger strike is not to kill himself, but, on the contrary very often it is done for improvement, advancement or amelioration of some situation. In view of this, the essential requirement of the offence, namely the intention to kill oneself, is absent and hence, it cannot amount to an offence under Section 309.

In Ramamoorthy v. State [1992 Cr.LJ 2074 (Mad.)], a person commenced fast-unto-death for certain demands but even before his demands were conceded, he chose to get himself treated medically without protest. It was held that the mens rea to destroy himself was absent and it could not be said that he attempted to commit suicide.

In Ram Sunder Dubey v. State [AIR 1962 All. 262], it was observed that only in cases where the accused intends to persever (or) pursue to the end, refuses all nourishment and reaches such a stage that there is imminent danger of death ensuing can he be held guilty of the offence of attempt to commit suicide.

The constitutional validity of Section 309 was initially struck down as a cruel and irrational provision and violative of Article 21 of the Constitution i.e., right to life under Article 21 also includes right to die, in the case of State of Maharashtra v. Maruti Sripati Dubai [1987 Cr.LJ 549] and P. Ratnam and Nagabhushan Patnaik v. Union of India.

However, a five Judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court, in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab [(1996) 2 SCC 648], declared that Section 309 IPC is not violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Thus, Section 309 IPC is constitutionally valid.

As per Section 309 of the Code, the punishment for attempt to commit suicide is simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.

The offence under Section 309 is cognizable and warrant should ordinarily issue in the first instance. It is bailable but non-compoundable, and is triable by any Magistrate.

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