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Updated: March 17, 2013 00:16 IST

They need empathy, not penal action

Dr. K. R. Antony
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People under adverse circumstances see the situation unbearable and decide to switch off life.
People under adverse circumstances see the situation unbearable and decide to switch off life.

Nobody attempts suicide for pleasure. Or, just for kicks.

Tremendous internal struggle and agony precede suicide. The victim has faced a lot of insult and humiliation and loss of honour, finance and love.

The onlooker may not think that the adverse circumstances as very significant. He sees them as part of life and advises the sufferer to “carry on, it is ‘OK’. Tomorrow, things might change.”

But the victim does not see the point. At least people under such adverse circumstances see the situation unbearable and decide to switch off life. That is their perception. We need to understand, if not fully respect, their freedom of thinking. It is their perceived reality. We cannot ridicule them saying, “How silly!” Can we ridicule the thousands of farmers who have committed suicide burdened by debt? That is pretty cruel and inhuman.

Here is where friends, family members, neighbourhood leaders and social workers have a great role, to empathise with and counsel them.

A helping hand even by police can come in at the nick of moment. Such intervention will buttress their claim of being people friendly or Janmaithri police like in Kerala.

The media (including The Hindu) reported on August 21, 2012 that a police case was slapped on three staff nurses for attempted suicide by jumping off the roof of a multi-storeyed hospital building. This incident happened in the climax of a long strike by nurses against poor wages and other forms of exploitation by the management of a private hospital in central Kerala. Police made use of a legal provision to chargesheet the lawbreakers with “attempted suicide”. What heroism!

Soon after that incident, on September 10, came the World Suicide Prevention Day!

Even in other States there are multiple instances of prompt action by an efficient police force hovering around hospital casualty beds to register a case against the patient undergoing psychiatric treatment. The bid at suicide is a psychiatric emergency. The victims need immediate help, not punishment!

When there is a rethink on “capital punishment,” it is time to rethink the wisdom of registering a criminal case for attempted suicide. If hanging is perceived as “barbaric,” a police case against “attempted suicide” is to be viewed as quite shameful and uncivilised.

Society has committed a crime against a person, who makes an attempt to end life, just to go away from this world. Not the other way around. Who should be punishing who is quite debatable.

(The writer is president, Public Health Resource Network, India.

He can be contacted at

More In: Open Page | Opinion

It is a doble whammy. Someone is driven to this extreme measure and
his/her failure to find an exit in his/her own way results in further
punishment. It shows the sadistic attitude of the society. Time the
law is changed; sooner the better. I believe in the UK attempted
suicide has been de-criminalised long back. So let us not blame them
for this.

Posted on: Mar 18, 2013 at 12:02 IST
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