Updated: Mar 14
India is a country where the religious sentiments are very important to people. And one of the important elements which comprise such sentiments is that of life and death. The birth of a child or the death of a person are always related to spirituality.
Based on such sensitivity is the law of our land too. And hence is the law relating to suicide. In our country taking one’s own life is punishable under criminal law. That is to say who desires and attempts to take his or her own life shall be punished under our criminal law. Similarly one who assists in this crime will also be liable as a criminal.
The treatment under criminal law to such assistance is given that of an accomplice. Such assistance or crime is described as abetment to suicide, under section 306 of IPC. This section describes that if any person has committed suicide, and whoever abets such suicide shall be punished with imprisonment of term extending to 10 years or along with payment of a fine. It is important to note that a person should have died in the attempted suicide for this section to be applicable. If the attempt has failed and the person survives, then a person cannot be punished under this section.
According to section 107 of Indian Penal Code, abetment means the action of instigating, encouraging or promoting a person into committing a crime. The abetter shall not be directly linked to the subject crime which takes place but on his or her part such explicit activity has been done which became a factor in the execution of the crime so committed. Alike any other crime mentioned in the Code, the abetment also requires to be comprised of the two integral elements of actus reus and mens rea. That is to say even in conviction under an abetment the accused must have done some external activity on his or her part with an intention for the subject crime to have taken place. The abetment can take place in providing any kind of aid to the person who commits the subject crime.
The definition shall be read with the offence mentioned under section 306 of the Code. A person punishable for abetment to suicide must have done such external activity on his or her part which caused instigation to the actual crime of suicide, along with an intention of getting committed such a crime. If either of the elements are missing then the abetter shall not be punished.
The criminalisation of this offence is based on public policy that any person in any form should not involve himself even as an accessory in the commission of a crime.
Though the crime of abetment mentioned under section 306 of the Code is an independent crime; the provision of section 305 of the Code appears to be a complement on the provision of abetment to suicide. As per section 305, if any person under the age of 18 years, insane, delirious, idiot or in a state of intoxication commits suicide then the abettor in this case shall be punishable with death, life imprisonment or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, along with a fine. It is keen to observe that the punishment under this section is more grave though it is exactly the same sin committed. This can be explained with the concept of “doli incapax”, where the category of people mentioned in section 305 are considered to lack certain resonableness of mind making them incapable of committing a crime. Since commission of suicide is considered a crime thence the “criminal” under the said provision of section 305 are ought not to find guilty in the strict sense, thus whoever commits the abetment not belonging to the category is implied to have more liability in the commission.
Now after reading down the law provision and its content, the applicability of section 306 is to be sought. In the case of Ramesh Kumar v State of Chattisgarh the Supreme Court had said that where the accused by his acts or by a continued course of conduct creates such circumstances that the deceased was left with no other option but to commit suicide, an "instigation" may be inferred. That is to say conviction under the said provision shall only take place when there are sustained acts of incitement for suicide.
The intriguiging part of the applicabilty of the provision is the fact that the substantial cases which have come before the judiciary regarding this crime, are the suicides committed by women, allegedly under the instigation or abetment of in- laws. In that respect the law has been evolved and grown by the hands of the judicial bodies nad their pronouncements in several precedents. But here also the facts and circumstances of each case has to be accessed. Where in one case the husband was found to have been beating and maltreating wife for not being able to conceive a child, the husband was found guilty of such instigation under section 306 IPC upon her suicide. In another case the husband was found guilty when the wife had burnt herself and her in- laws had prima facie tried to stampede the fire. But in an instance where the wife killed herself because her husband used to beat her after drinking, the Court found him not guilty. In the instances of women committing suicide in other kind of circumstances, the Court has followed the simple rule of consistent instigation or conspiracy to do so. Where a woman was raped, and because of that she committed suicide, the court found him not guilty because the rape could not be proved.
In another set of circumstances regarding domestic setup only, the judgements might appear discriminatory. In the cases where alleged extra- matrimonial affairs became issues, where in one case the husband had failed to discharge responsibilities of marriage because of growing intimacy towards another woman, the suicide of wife didn’t convict the husband U/S 306 of the Code as that didn’t amount to cruelty. But in another case where the wife was indulged in an extra- marital affair, the lover was found guilty U/S 306 of the suicide of the husband.
The court has kept a conscious eye on the fact that where the victims have been found too sensitive upon normal course of conditions, which any other ordinary person wouldn’t have given in, the court has acted judicially so that any person doesn’t get unjustly treated. In a case where the employee gets severely rebuked by his superior for failing to carry out his duties properly, driving him to commit suicide, the superior wasn’t found guilt of abetment. The court observed that if the checking in on the employees by the superiors is considered as abetment to suicide then they shall not be able to discharge their duties as their posts demand. In cases of student suicides, which is currently becoming a growing concern, the reprimanding from teachers or principals have not found to be acts of instigation, the court found there was lack of mens rea for the accused to be convicted.
Regarding the subject provision of law, seldom other provisions come up in order to complement the said provision, that is Section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act 1872 and Section 498A of the Code itself. The effect of both these provisions is of an aide towards Section 306 of the Code. To speak in gist if the woman commits suicide within seven years of her marriage and it is shown that her husband or any relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty as per the terms defined in section 498A IPC, 1860, the Court may presume having regard to all other circumstances of the case that such suicide has been abetted by the husband or such person.
In another intriguiging set of circumstances dealing with medically assisted attempts of killings of terminally- ill people known as Euthanasia, the Court found it illegal. But it was in the Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug case, the court allowed passive euthanasia under strict monitoring.
Hence we see that various kinds of circumstances come up to be tried under this section but the general rule of application of the consistent instigation towards ending one’s life remains constant, along with the presence of mens rea.
 “A Critical Study On Abetment Of Suicide,Child Or Insane Person,” Keerthana.K ,Roja.K, 2018.  Ibid.  (2001) 9 SCC 618.  Gurcharan Singh v State of Punjab, AIR 2017 SC 74.  Sudarshan Kumar v State of Haryana, AIR 2011 SC 3024.  Jeevan Babu Desai v State of Maharashtra, 1992 Cr LJ 2996 (Bom).  Pachipala Laxmaiah v State of MP, 2001 Cr LJ 4063.  Supra note 4.  Partha Dey v State of Tripura, 2013 Cr LJ 2101.  Pinakin Mahipatray Rawal v State of Gujarat, 2013 (3) Mad LJ (Crl) 700.  Dammu Sreenu v State of AP, 2003 Cr LJ 2185 (AP).  Madan Mohan Singh v State of Gujarat, (2010) 8 SCC 628 [LNIND 2010 SC 763].  Aroma Philemon v State, 2013 Cr LJ 1933 (Raj), Hasmukhbhai Gokaldas Shah v State of Gujarat, 2009 Cr LJ 2919 (Guj).  Indian Penal Code, Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, 2020.  Gian Kaur v State of Punjab, 1996 (2) SCC 648 [LNIND 1996 SC 653].  (2011) 4 SCC 454.
Author - Pragati Gupta
Student of Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.