Attempt to Suicide: Comparative Study between Indian and Other Jurisdictions


Suicide is a non-fatal self-coordinated potentially damaging behavior with an expectation to die. This can be set off because of various of factors, such as, Psychiatric ailment, Depression, Other mental issues, Sexual/physical abuse (comprising of childhood adversities), Abuse of alcohol/drugs, Stressful life occasions, such as, loss of loved person, inescapable criminal prosecution, experiencing or determined to have terminal illness etc. This act of commission of suicide or even attempt was condemned and still keep on justifying punitive arrangements in various nations to this date like Singapore, Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Ghana and so on. A large part of the legit legal position against suicide began from the assertion by St. Augustine (AD 354-430) that suicide is a sin or wrongdoing. This prompted suicide being seen as a criminal act by governments that were impacted by the strict religious institutions. Even Hinduism unequivocally denounces suicide through, a composition on the code of living in old India, i.e. Dharmashastras. For example, Yama Smriti (600BC) holds that the assortments of the individuals who end their lives by suicide should be defiled. If an individual survives the attempt, he must be made to pay fine. The old Hindu living standards authorized some types of suicides, for example, ending it all to appease sins, like, interbreeding or incest, or the suicide of those experiencing serious and incurable diseases and unable to play out their religious duties, and ‘Sati’ or ‘Suttee’ which needs the widow to look for death by self- immolation with her better half following his death. De- stigmatization of the act of suicide has had a long road. The influx of taking a gander at individuals who commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide, as criminals, to that of survivor of mental pressure and needing assistance has still left some civilized nations of the reality where suicide is as yet a crime. This wave of acknowledgment owes its beginning to numerous sources including an eminent sociologist Emile Durkheim’s pioneering work on suicide which proved that external pressures or societal stressors can lead to suicidal behavior. Another central point which impacted change in cultural disposition about suicide was the beginning of brain research. Sigmund Freud proposed the idea of psychosis and recommended that psychological issues were medical ailments. Subsequently, acceptance of the concept that psychological, mental or emotional distress could be because of natural factors encouraged by the civil, criminal and religious laws related to suicide. Internationally, Germany was the first nation in the world to decriminalize attempt to suicide. In 1983, the roman Catholic church reversed the ordinance law that restricted proper funeral rites, ceremonies and burial in the church cemeteries for the individuals who had committed suicide. All these advancements and developments have been instrumental in moving perspectives towards suicide in the modern world.

This article therefore studies the cases of countries like, India, Sri Lanka & Singapore etc. Sri Lanka which earlier punished for suicidal attempt till 1998 has adopted decriminalization for the last 20 years whereas India decriminalized attempt to suicide after the passing of Mental Healthcare Act, 2017. Singapore still continues to criminalize attempt to suicide. The part of assisted suicide and euthanasia are kept out of the scope of this paper.

Legislatures regarding Suicide in India

India recently punished attempt to suicide under Section 309 of IPC which read as:
“Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine, or with both.”
This had been enshrined in the Indian Penal Code since it was brought by the British government in pre independence period in 1860 despite the fact that Britain itself had decriminalized suicide in 1961. From that point, various law commission reports and Judicial pronouncements has put the lawful position on criminalization of attempt to suicide based on rationale and law. The primary wave toward decriminalization began in 1981 when the Delhi High Court denounced the Section 309 of Indian Penal Code as “unworthy of human society” and its Bombay Counterpart, in 1986, held it to be ultra vires on the ground that it abuses Articles 14 and 21 of Indian Constitution. The 42nd Law Commission Report in 1971 had suggested revoking of the criminalization of attempted suicide under sec. 309. From that point in 1978, Indian Penal Code (amendment) bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha and was anticipating the approval of Lok Sabha when it was dissolved and the same lapsed. Unfortunately, the position of Supreme court on Section 309 was overruled after two or three years by a five-judge constitutional bench of the apex court. Subsequently, who at that point restored the law in the 1996 in Gian Kaur V. State of Punjab. After the Gian Kaur judgment, the commission then presented its 156th report in 1997, suggesting retention of section 309.
Anyway, the Law commission in its 210th report prescribed that attempt to suicide justified medical and mental care and not just punishment. Considering the views of the WHO, International Association for Suicide Prevention, the Indian Psychiatric Society and the portrayals got by the commission from different persons, the commission set out to prescribe the public authority of India to start ventures for nullification of the anachronistic law contained in Section 309, Indian Penal Code.

As law and order is a state subject, the central government mentioned the perspectives on states/UTs on the proposals of the law commission. Eighteen states and 4 UT administrations upheld that Section 309 of the IPC may be erased. Hence keeping in view, the reactions from the states/UTs, after on and off stand with respect to this section by different law bodies like courts and law commissions for almost thirty years, it has been declared on December 10, 2014, to erase Section309 of Indian Penal Code from the statute book.

Finally, the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 decriminalized attempt to suicide and recommends that a same won’t justify penal activities. As per the Section 115 of Mental Healthcare Act (MHCA), 2017, suicide attempters are dared to have severe stress, not to be punished and the government ought to have obligation to give care, treatment, and rehabilitation to reduce the risk of recurrence. Decriminalization may lead to openly seeking for help, improvement in epidemiological information, better planning, and resource allotment. Even at that point, awareness about decriminalization of suicide has been extremely poor. Mediums like medical authorities and state should take measures to make more awareness.

Legislatures regarding Suicide in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka penalized attempt to suicide similarly as India followed till 1998. In spite of the fact that Sri Lanka was one of the world’s highest suicide reporting nations till about mid-1990s, recent numbers on suicide in Sri Lanka show a relative decrease. This has been achieved by various approach changes along with change in the punitive provisions, to address the high rate of suicide. Before 1990s as has been stated, Sri Lanka had a high suicide rate. In the light of the same, an official board was set up in 1997 which prescribed decriminalization of attempt to suicide. Other than decriminalization of the attempted suicide law, the board likewise suggested an expansion in medical services including those for the management of serious mental illness and debilitate broad media revealing of the prevalence of suicide events. In May 1998, the Parliament implemented an act to rescind the nation’s strict laws on taking one’s own life. It additionally intensely censored the dispersion of substances used to commit suicide particularly pesticides. In an investigative study named Suicide in Sri Lanka: Past, Present and future transformations by WHO, Forum for suicide and cultural research alongside National Science Foundation. It was reported that the fall in the suicide rate was the aftereffect of deals limitations put on the most poisonous pesticides, and not the consequence of falling degrees of suicide attempts per se. In fact, the proofs recommend that the level of suicide attempts has really increased in a same period, with suicidal conduct staying a main source of serious injury and death in youth and older people in Sri Lanka. Accordingly, Sri Lanka has had the option to handle the issue of suicides by not just decriminalizing attempt to suicide however by additionally taking other strategy measure. Sri Lanka was one of the principal nations in Asia to formulate and implement National Suicide Prevention Strategy by the Presidential committee in 1997. The action plan of this strategy focused on –

  • Decrease simple admittance to deadly techniques;
  • Advance examination on diminishing the lethality of pesticides being used;
  • Instruct the general population on less hurtful utilization of pesticides;
  • Make a culture which debilitate suicides;
  • Guarantee endurance subsequent to harming; and
  • Eliminate lawful hindrances to the right treatment of those at risk.

Legislature regarding suicide in Singapore

Suicide is liable for 2.4% of all deaths in Singapore, and this rate is most noteworthy for those 20-29 years of age. Much like India, Singapore adopted its penal code because of English colonization. Singaporean Penal code was set up in 1971 and is pretty much like the Indian Penal Code. As of now, any individual who attempts suicide can confront detainment as long as a year, or a fine, or both. In spite of the fact that attempt to suicide isn’t decriminalized, the state has embraced humanized enforcement practices, for example, the state only presses charges in three conditions:

  • when the individual consistently attempts to murder himself;
  • when assets are squandered in keeping him from ending his life; or
  • where the individual attempting to execute himself has perpetrated different offenses simultaneously, for example, harming another person.

The police may even ask people to seek counseling or refer them to the Institute of Mental Health for treatment. Patients admitted to a government clinic for treatment for attempting suicide must be reported to the police with the goal that law enforcement can report and keep records. Most people who attempt suicide are captured, however in 2007 just 11 people were charged in court. Consequently, Singapore’s usage of the attempted suicide law is humanized. But with the global flood of decriminalization of attempted suicide, the Singaporean government has additionally set up a panel (Penal Code Review Committee) set up in 2016 has believed that Section 309 which condemns attempt to suicide should be canceled and the attention should be on treatment as opposed to prosecution. Necessary amendment will likewise be made in the Mental Health (care and treatment) Act to give mental health care services to those in need.


Criminalization of suicide or attempt to suicide verifiably had its underlying foundations in religious beliefs. However, with isolation of law from religious beliefs in the modern world, most nations revoked laws punishing individuals who commit acts roused by self-destructive/ suicidal conduct however a few nations actually keep on punishing attempt to suicide. The contextual analysis of India, Sri Lanka and Singapore with respect to suicide laws gives a structure of the impact of international guidelines, approaches and plans or policies with respect to the mentioned laws and the need to give treatment as opposed to indictment in suicide cases. Contextual investigation of Sri Lanka likewise brought to the front that simple decriminalization of attempt to suicide can’t convincingly cut down suicide rates unless it is followed by other policy measures such as strict control over distribution of substances used to commit suicide such as poison, pesticides, etc. Therefore, decriminalization of attempt to suicide is a step towards the right course yet can’t be the sole way to accomplishing the objective of lower suicide rates.


Rituparna Patra
(National University of Study and Research in Law)