Decriminalisation of attempt to suicide: How it came about

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The Government of India has on Wednesday, Dec 10 officially decriminalised "attempt to suicide" and thus struck down Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The move comes in the wake of several experts on the subject terming it as anachronistic.


What Section 309 stated

Any attempt to commit suicide was punishable under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. Those found guilty under this section were liable for one years' imprisonment and fine or both.

Suicide attempters need help

One of the primary reasons for decriminalisation of Section 309 was because it was considered to be anachronistic in nature. A recommendation was made way back in 2011 to strike down this section. It was observed 'those attempting suicide are usually in a depressed state of mind'. They need help. Instead the legal provisions imposed punishment which only would add to the miseries of that person.

The constitutional validity of the Section 309 was challenged befo‎re the courts in the Gian Kaur case. The court however upheld the validity of the section.


"It is a good move", say legal experts. This is a more humanitarian way of looking at things. People attempting suicide need help and not punishment. ‎The Indian Penal Code which continues to prescribe punishments of the British raaj and there have been several debates on how many sections need to be either repealed or amended.

This is a more reformative approach to things the experts point out. Even the Law Commission in its 210th report titled Humanisation and decriminalisation had in 2008 recommended repealing section 309. The commission had noted that it would not be fair to inflict additional legal punishment on a person who has already suffered mental agony and ignominy in his attempt to commit suicide.

Iron Sharmila case

The debate intensified after the Delhi court framed charges against Iron Sharmila under Section 309. She was fasting seeking the repeal of AFSPA for 12 years. Now that the government has withdrawn this Section it would majorly boost people going on hunger strikes without the fear of being booked for attempt to suicide.

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