My life, My choice: Legal aspects of suicide

This article has been written by Sarvesh P. Giri. Sarvesh is a Bachelor’s of Engg in Electronics and Telecommunication, 2015 batch from Mumbai University and pursuing LL.B. from Gopaldas Jhamatmal Advani Law College, Mumbai.

The life has been a natural and god’s essential gift to each and every individual on this Earth. The god has vested this right upon each and every individual to live this life and enjoy the same. In the archaic period people never had reasons to end their lived voluntarily and that death of an individual or a person was by natural reasons or due to any infirmity or ailment or disease, but with the evolvement of the society and technology, man found a couple of reasons to end its life voluntarily depriving itself of this natural gift.


‘SUICIDE’ has no such particular definition in any of the legal book and that speaking in layman language it is voluntary end of one’s own life due to certain external factors. Suicide is the only act which is not penalized under any of the mandatory and obligatory provisions of Criminal Law primarily because of the reason of non-existence of the person committing the offence.

Henceforth, in case of failing of the act of committing suicide, the individual so survived is punished under the section 309 of Indian Penal Code that deals with attempt to commit suicide.


As per the provisions of Art.21 of the Constitution of India every individual is vested with the right to life and personal liberty. But this act of committing suicide has been into controversy over a recent few time merely because of articulation of Art.21 in Constitution of India. Apart from Art.21 in Constitution of India there is an additional provision i.e. Section 309 IPC which criminalizes an attempt of this act.

Many mind bogglers consider such provisions to be inhuman whereas some consider it as a valid provision and as a mode to set example before the society but something has gone unnoticed i.e. correcting the mental stability of the offender.

In one of the cases of MARUTI SRIPATI DUBAL V/S STATE OF MAHARASHTRA, the Bombay High Court struck down S.309 of IPC as ultra vires to the Indian Constitution. In this case, it recognized the right to live as a positive as well as negative right. It recognized the right not to live as a right to live. The court further held that every individual is a sole master of his body alongwith his limbs and all organs of his body and its upto his discretion to perform as his will

However, a complete contradictory viewpoint was held by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India in the case of R. RATHIRAM V/S UNION OF INDIA, wherein the court held that the Section 309 of IPC was violative of Article 21 of Constitution of India. However, this controversy took 360 degrees turn in the case of GIAN KAUR V/S STATE OF PUNJAB when the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India consisting of 5 Judges overruled the decision passed in Rathiram’s Case and stated S.309 not to be violative of Art.14 or 21 of Indian Constitution.

Hence it is since the olden times that this controversy whether penalizing an individual making an attempt to commit suicide is a valid provision or the same stands ultra vires.


Considering the provisions of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which mandates right to life but as was rightly upheld in the famous case of MANEKA GANDHI V/S UNION OF INDIA, that right to life is not merely confined to physical existence but a life with dignity. The question that the judiciary should consider the reason and the pain which coerces a person to adopt such a step.

Here are some of the reasons why one adopts such harsh steps to end one’s own precious life:

  1. Fear of failure in exams
  2. Continuous exposure to harsh treatment either by husband or by any of his relatives
  3. Poverty
  4. Unability to withstand the infirmity or disease
  5. Not being allowed or not being able to earn a living

It is these external factors which coerce an individual to adopt such steps. The judiciary has had a couple of judgments validating the provisions of S.309 of IPC at some point whether as held it unconstitutional at the other point.

The other question to be considered is whether in such circumstances, any individual or any prudence can live a healthy and a dignified life? The answer lies as NO, reason being the disturbances it creates in the mental vicinity of an individual

In the famous case of Gian Kaur, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India held that suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of one’s life and incompatible with right to life.


Upon perusing the above circumstances leading to this controversy, it is evident that penalizing an offence caused due to mental instability of an individual would not be a human treatment. Instead the provision of Section 309 must be amended and such people should be subject to rigorous counselling so that they can have a different perception to the problem face by them because it is a matter of mere perception.


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