Sushant Left Us Too Soon: A Legal Visit to Suicide

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The whole of India lost a beat at the untimely demise of Sushant Singh Rajput. The actor had charmed his ways into the hearts of the entire country. He made it big from scratch, and his determination to work harder was inspirational to all. The brilliance of Sushant was to love science and art equally. The actor committed suicide on 14th June 2020.

The actor was allegedly a patient of depression. Mumbai Police has started the investigation of his death. A case has been filed in Bihar against Karan Johar, Ekta Kapoor, Salman Khan and five others for allegedly hatching a conspiracy and abetting the suicide. Rhea Chakraborty was interrogated with many others. The conversation of nepotism and its corruption has flooded social media. 

Sushant has left to seek peace, leaving behind innumerable precious memories, smiles along with pain and a lot to contemplate and understand mental health and suicide. The article delves into the legal aspects of the same. 

Indian Laws on Suicide

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Suicide can be defined as a voluntary act to destroy one’s own life. It is being conscious of the probable consequence, and having, at the time, sufficient mind to will the destruction of life. The India Penal Code does not carry any definition of suicide, but a couple of sections throw light on its criminality. 

Section 309 of IPC punishes whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence. Section 306 punishes abetment to suicide, read along with Sections 108, 109 and 116. 

The sections are based on the principles that the lives of people are not only valuable to them but also to the state which protects them. Another argument for criminalization is the belief that law can act as a deterrent against other such attempts in the society. However, this idea has slowly lost relevance, especially by taking into account the rise in deaths by suicides. Instead, it is a monstrous act that inflicts further suffering on the person who had already found life so painful and unbearable and the chances of happiness so slender that the person decided to embrace death to end life. If such a person failed in the attempt to die, inflicting torture and degradation by punishment is unreasonable and unjust. In fact, such persons deserve compassionate and sympathetic treatment and counselling. It unnecessary mingles them with criminals.

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Suicide, therefore, has been daunted with many controversies regarding its validity over the decades on the grounds of legality and morality. In P. Rathinam vs. Union of India, the Supreme Court held that right to die is an aspect of Article 21 of the Constitution as much as a right to live includes right to die and right to not live a forced life. However, Gian Kaur judgment overruled it. It established that right to life is a natural right embodied in Article 21. Suicide is unnatural termination of life, therefore, inconsistent and incompatible with right to life. 

Although Section 309 is still in effect, the recent Mental Health Act, 2017 has restricted its application. According to Section 115 of the Act, those attempting suicide are presumed to have severe stress and are not to be punished. It mandates the government to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to reduce the risk of reoccurrence. 

The transformation suggests the refined perspective of the policymakers. The development reckons that whatever social, economic, political, personal reasons it may be, it all boils down to one ultimate factor that determines the commission of the act. The psychological state of the individual is most important. It determines the intentions to end their life. Therefore, new provisions recognize the need to protect the mental balance. 

However, the Mental Health Care Act does not repeal Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. It merely provides the presumption of mental illness. It does not save the individual from the prosecution. Therefore, the persons with attempted suicide may continue to hesitate in seeking medical treatment after a suicidal attempt, because of perceived fear of possible institutionalization against their own will. Moreover, it is silent on the issue of abetment. It also raises concerns about the institutionalization in silencing the victims of violence. Law Commission of India has often recommended the deletion of Section 309. Experts have called for a separate legislation. They say it is important to address all the issues that are associated with suicide. 

The Way Forward

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With a shift in official position from ‘legal’ to a ‘medical’ model, there are significant challenges on the way. The spectrum of mental illness is barely acknowledged or even known by society at large. Hence, a person facing such problems is stigmatized and secluded rather than providing comfort. This prohibits people from coming out and seeking help. There is much stigma related to suicides and survivors. Many times suicides are considered cowardice and survivors are seen as attention seekers.

Thus, there is a need to upgrade the prevailing education system. There should be conscious attempts to create awareness in the society at large. Massive programmes need to be conducted to enable people to access mental healthcare. Suicide help-lines should be funded, trained and promoted.

Medical professionals, mental health professionals, and NGOs involved in the care of persons need to update their knowledge. This will enhance their assessment and management skills. The intentions of the government to create a welfare state by taking care of its mentally ill persons are magnanimous. Cost implications, limited resources and the existing backwardness in the society are the practical constraints in implementing the policies.


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