The Legal Lock




Section 309 in the Indian Penal Code considers an attempt to commit suicide which does not amount to death and suicide assistance as a criminal offense. It states that whoever attempts to commit suicide or does any act towards the commission of suicide shall be punished under the Constitution of India with imprisonment for a term which might extend to a year, or a fine, or in some cases both.

This particular Section under the Indian Penal Code has had many arguments in the past years because of the belief that suicide is considered the Act of taking one’s own life on purpose. It is also because of the intention of ending their own life for reasons like wanting to escape from one’s problems or whatever reasons one can have. These issues have been raised against the particular Section purely because some might believe that suicide is one’s own choice, and taking that away from a person ultimately leads to infringement of the Fundamental Rights of a person.


In 2018, about 1,34,516 cases in total were reported by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) as suicides. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) report, India alone contributes about 34 percent of the suicides worldwide. Reports suggest that in 2019, for every 4 minutes, one person died of suicide. Almost 93 percent of suicide attempt cases were due to mental illness and issues.


The Indian Constitution states that the Government must protect and support the people’s lives in the country, so Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code has provided the Government with the power to punish a person if they attempt to commit suicide and. However, by utilizing this power under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, the Government interferes with people’s lives by restricting their freedom.

The Constitutional validity under this Section is rechallenged because it violates the Right to life, which is guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Many people feel that the Right to life also includes the Right of individuals to end their lives.

Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab 1996:

In the case Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab 1996, the appellant was not successful in convincing the judges in the bench that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code violates Article 21 under the Constitution of India. Therefore, the bill to strike this particular Section was introduced in the Parliament, but it failed to pass.


In March of 2011, The Supreme Court of India suggested that the Parliament consider removing Section 309 from the statute. In response to Vivek Gupta in 2014 at the Rajya Sabha on decriminalization of suicide and Section 309, Haribhai Parthibhai Chaudhary, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, stated the decision to delete Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code from the statute book. In February 2015, he stated that the proposal raised suggesting the deletion of Section 309 was passed on to the Legislative Department of Ministry of Justice and Law to draw up a draft Amendment Bill.

However, the report given by the standing committee expressed a few concerns regarding the bill passed. The first issue raised was that the presumption of mental healthcare and illness would subject a person to treating said mental illness. The second issue specified the consequences of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code as it concerns abetment to suicide.

Lastly, the issue of institutionalization in silencing the victims who are subject to domestic violence was also raised. Responding to the issues raised, the Ministry proposed a few amendments, which would change the language of the provision. It concerned the presumption of stress in cases of attempts to commit suicide. Even though there was ambiguity regarding the presumption and at which stage it would operate, the committee eventually accepted the recommendation.

Mental Healthcare Act

In August of 2016, this bill was voted on and passed by the Rajya Sabha, and a year later, in 2017, it was passed by the Lok Sabha. Even though Section 309 is still in effect, the Mental Healthcare Act passed in 2018 insists on restrictions on the application of section 309.

The provisions of the new Act states that Notwithstanding anything under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, anyone who tries or attempts to commit suicide will be presumed to have severe stress unless proven otherwise and shall not be punished and tried under the Section of Indian Penal Code. The bill was enacted as the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 in 2018. This Act does not fully repeal Section 309 from the Indian Penal Code, but it provides for mental illness presumptions.


Conclusively, under this Act, the person who is unsuccessful in committing suicide or attempting to commit suicide will be provided with rehabilitation and treatment by the Government to make sure that the person does not attempt to or commit suicide. Usually, the attempt to commit suicide is because of mental illness or the need to escape reality or one’s problems in life. When it is proved that the reason for attempted suicide is mental stress, that person is not subject to section 309.

However, there are cases where mental illness is not the reason for attempting suicide. In such cases, the person is not protected by the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 and is subject to Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. He or she will be charged under the Section for the offense of attempted suicide and will be punished by the law as per the provision. This will only lead to more misery and agony in that person’s life and has the chance of them repeating the same thing, thus committing suicide and killing themselves only this time, he or she might die.