CHENNAI: One of the most debated offences in courts has been finally been consigned to the dustbin of history. Suicide as such was not a crime under the Indian Penal Code; only an attempt to commit suicide was a punishable under Section 309.
The section was based on the principle that life of a person is not only valuable to the individual but also to the family and the society. Over the years, various courts had diametrically opposite views on Section 309.The Law Commission of India in its 42nd Report published in June 1971 recommended its deletion. In 1985, the Delhi High Court in the State Vs Sanjay Kumar Bhatia, said, “The continuance of Section 309 IPC is an anachronism unworthy of human society like ours.” In 1987, a Division Bench of Bombay High Court in Maruti Shri Pati Dubal Vs State of Maharashtra, held that Section 309 is violative of Article 14 as well as Article 21 of the Constitution.
The provision was held to be discriminatory and arbitrary. The court ruled thast it violated the principle of equality guaranteed by Article 14. In 1988, a Division Bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Chenna Jagadeeswar and another Vs State of Andhra Pradesh, rejected a challenge on its constitutional validity.
Later in 1994, in P Rathinam Vs Union of India, Supreme court judge Hansaria B L declared Section 309 unconstitutional observing, “… Section 309 of the IPC deserves to be effaced from the statute book to humanise our penal laws. It is a cruel and irrational provision, and it may result in punishing a person again (doubly) who has suffered agony and would be undergoing ignominy because of his failure to commit suicide. Thus Section 309 violates Article 21, and so, it is void...”
Subsequently, in 1996, the apex court in Gian Kaur Vs the State of Punjab said, “The debate on the desirability of retaining such a penal provision of punishing attempted suicide, including the recommendation for its deletion by the Law Commission are not sufficient to indicate that the provision is unconstitutional. Neither of the two provisions is constitutionally invalid.”
Way back in 1884, an English court held in Queen Empress Vs Ramakka, where a woman went to a well to commit suicide, that she was not guilty under the section as she might have changed her mind and she was caught before she did anything.
Is Sati legal now? Sati comes under a different section — Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 (One year jail or fine or both for Sati bid)
Suicide bid carried a maximum sentence of one year. What happens to those who are already serving a jail term?
What about Euthanasia? Though passive Euthanasia was legalised in 2011 by the Supreme Court, the decision on Sec 309 raises questions on active Euthanasia