ABETMENT OF SUICIDE: THE INTRICACIES OF THE INDIAN PENAL CODE
Author: Vidhik Kumar, IV year of B.A. LLB (Criminal Law Hons.) from National University of Study and Research in Law Ranchi
Suicides have become a global problem, and with the extensive toll the corona pandemic has inflicted upon people, it has again managed to draw the attention of the world. Several people around the world due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic, lockdowns imposed, and the job loss, went into a state of turmoil and committed suicide, and India remains no exception to that. India also witnessed large numbers of suicides by migrant workers, celebrities, covid patients, and ordinary citizens, which brewed numerous controversies/discussions throughout the country about the poor management of pandemic, the taboo of mental health in India, and the abetments of these suicides and the prosecution of the people involved. The most conversed of which remains the cases of Rhea Chakraborty and Arnab Goswami both of whom were apprehended for allegedly abetting the suicide of the late Bollywood Actor and the Interior Designer respectively.
The Indian Law though does not punish committing suicide, but punishes its abetment, which is easier said than done. This note henceforth is an attempt to analyze the legality/criminality of the abetment of suicides, abetment of an attempt to commit suicide, abetment of suicide/attempt to commit suicide in the light of provisions of the Indian Penal Code 1860 (hereinafter IPC or Code).
Abetment and Dilemmas Around
As a general rule, the IPC only punishes abetment of acts which themselves constitute an offence, and although committing suicide though is not an offence itself, (that is on completion and not mere attempt) its abetment is still liable for punishment and thus stands out as an exception. Since the commission of suicide renders a person outside the scope of penal consequences, it is not punishable under the IPC, however, to deter its abetment Section 306 is provided in the Code. The Code by providing Section 306 does not attempt to criminalize an act which is not an offence but lays down in itself altogether a new category of offence, that is commission of an act which will amount to an offence in itself, which is abetting someone to commit suicide. Also relying on the definition of “offence” laid down in Section 40 of the Code, it becomes clear that an offence is something punishable under the code, which ‘suicide’ clearly isn’t but ‘its abetment’ is.
Furthermore, it becomes pertinent to note that a person will only be punished under the section if the person so abetted in actuality commits suicide and not merely attempts it. Which although apparent in the section have also been enunciated by the Supreme Court in Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab. Also, it becomes necessary that the court's another observation: that “it is inconceivable to have abetment of abetment”, is also critically scrutinized. The Supreme Court’s observation in Satvir Singh (supra), that “it is inconceivable to have abetment of abetment”, leads us to our next question of thought, ‘that can there be abetting of abetment of suicide’.
The principle of abetment is a well-recognized principle in the IPC. Explanation 4 of Section 108 of the Code expressly lays down abetment of an offence is also an offence. Therefore, and also in the light of supreme courts observance in CBI v. Keshub Mahindra that no courts order can be read in a manner that may annul express provisions of an act, it can rightly be stated that the court erred in Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab. Furthermore, abetment of an offence can be better understood in the light of illustration provided for explanation 4 of section 108 which being:
“A instigates B to instigate C to murder Z. B accordingly instigates C to murder Z, and C commits that offence in consequence of B’s instigation. B is liable to be punished for his offence with the punishment for murder; and, as A instigated B to commit the offence, A is also liable to the same punishment”.
Henceforth, if the abovementioned illustration, if read in abetment of suicide context will render “C” liable for punishment under 306 for abetting the suicide of “Z” which is an offence in itself, on the other hand, “B”, will be liable as an abettor for abetting an offence (that is the abetment of suicide (Section 306)), and “A” lastly will be liable for abetment of an offence under Section 108-Explanation 4.
However, the situation will stand on a different footing if “Z” does not in actuality commits suicide. If “Z” does not succeed in committing suicide then “C” though will not be liable under section 306, however, will render “A” and “B” still liable. “B”, under explanation 2 to section 108 which states the abetted offence need not be committed, will stand liable under Section 116 of the Code irrespective of the fact that the offence he abetted (that is the abetment of suicide by “C” under section 306) was committed or not. Similarly, “A” will stand liable under Explanation 4 to section 108 of the code.
The only liability that will change will be of “C”, and the culpability of which will be discussed hereinafter. The questions that arise about C’s culpability in Z’s failure to commit suicide is, that can there be abetment of an attempt to commit suicide, and if yes, then what is the punishment prescribed in the IPC for it.
Though the Supreme Court in Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab observed that nobody would abet attempt to commit suicide, failed to provide the reasons behind the same. The abetment of an attempt to suicide though may seem preposterous to the court is a scenario not unknown to our society and is even recognised under Indian Law.
The IPC does not define the term “abet” and only elucidates abetment of a thing and abettor under section 107 and section 108 respectively. Section 107 defines abetment as instigation, causing, and facilitating a person to do 'a' thing or ‘an’ act or omission to do ‘an’ act. Here the article “a” represents indefiniteness and henceforth the section is inclusive of every act which can be committed or ought not to be committed that is attempting suicide. Also abettor according to Section 108 of the Code is a person who abets the commission of an offence or an act that will amount to an offence. Section 108 also is not restricted in its operation and includes under its ambit of abettor, every person who can abet an act which is an offence or which might be an offence, which an attempt to suicide is according to section 40 read with section 309.
Further what remains pertinent to note is the observation of the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab. The court observed that abetment of an attempt to commit suicide cannot be prosecuted under section 306 and it can only be made liable for punishment if read under the lens of section 309 with 107 conjunctively. The court enunciating, in light of the law prevalent in other jurisdictions where even though the attempt to suicide or committing suicide is not penalized their abetment is, observed that the arguments put forth to not punish a person attempting to suicide cannot be put forth and availed by a person who abets or assists it. The court also observed that arguments put forth against the provision penalising attempted suicide cannot also be availed by a person who abets its commission or its attempt.
Henceforth it can be summarized that a person abetting an attempt to suicide, under section 309 read with section 107, will be liable for punishment under Section 109 of the code.