IPC law on suicide is ‘redundant’, say experts

Lakshmi Vijaykumar. File  

A national strategy for suicide prevention is under discussion at the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, well known psychiatrist Lakshmi Vijayakumar said, adding that the strategy should remove confusion surrounding Article 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) according to which attempted suicide continues to be a criminal offence.

Dr. Vijayakumar, who is also a member of WHO’s Network on Suicide Research and Prevention, said that after the Mental Healthcare Act (MCHA), 2017, Section 309 of the IPC has become “redundant” but it still remains in law books.

While the section says that attempt to commit suicide is punishable with simple imprisonment which may extend up to one year, section of 115 of the MCHA, 2017 states: “...any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code (Section 309 of IPC ).”

Speaking on the need to strike off the article, Dr. Vijayakumar said the section makes attempted suicide a medico-legal case and the golden hour of providing effective treatment to the person who has attempted suicide is wasted. Hospitals and health institutions do not provide data on attempted suicide and as a result there is no data on attempted suicide in the country.

India tops the list

India, however, continues to have the dubious distinction of recording the highest number of suicides in the world, contributing to 34 % of all suicides, said Dr. Vijaykumar. She further added that the country has the highest rate of suicide among young women between 19 to 29 years. The National Crime Records Bureau recorded 1,33,623 suicides in 2015.

Dr. Vijaykumar was speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of a panel discussion on ‘Decriminalization of Attempted Suicide: MCHA 2017 and the Ground Reality’ organized by the Indian Psychiatric Society in Kolkata earlier this week.

Speaking on the issue of the stigma related to suicide and attempted suicide, Subhangi Parkar, head of the department of Psychiatry and De-addiction, King Edward Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, said that there is still lot of stigma related to suicides and survivors. “Suicide attempt survivors are often viewed as attention seekers… It is also a common myth that those who try to kill themselves are cowards,” she said.

Conviction rates

Surojit Purokayastha, former director general of West Bengal and now State Security Advisor said that while the rate of conviction in usual crimes in which the police file chargesheets is around 10 %, in cases dealing with Section 309 of IPC, the conviction is as high as 30 % because of the “clinching evidence” available in these cases.

The State’s advocate general Kishore Dutta maintained that the Section 309 of IPC has been made ineffective but remains in law books. Mr. Dutta said that whenever a patient who has attempted suicide is taken to a hospital, the first duty of the hospital is to provide him or her medical intervention and then inform the police.

Dr. Vijayakumar said that the Section 309 of IPC also puts a burden on the police for whom the only time this law comes to use is “when politicians go on a hunger strike", even as there are a plenty of other laws for such cases.

Kolkata Suicide Help Line: 24637401 / 24637432

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 7:35:14 AM |

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