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India: Proposal to Decriminalize Attempted Suicide

(Dec. 29, 2014) On December 10, 2014, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs announced in a press release its decision to decriminalize attempted suicide by repealing section 309 of India’s Penal Code. (The Indian Penal Code (IPC), World Intellectual Property Organization website; Press Release, Ministry of Home Affairs, Decriminalisation of Section 309, Press Information Bureau website (Dec. 10, 2014).) The provision states, “[w]hoever 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.” (IPC, § 309.)

The press release stated:

As law and order is the State subject, views of States/UTs were requested on the recommendations of the Law Commission. 18 States and 4 Union Territory Administrations have supported that Section 309 of the IPC may be deleted. Keeping in view the responses from the States/UTs, it has been decided to delete Section 309 of IPC from the Statute book. (Press Release, supra.)

The decision of the government was made on recommendation of the Law Commission of India, a body constituted by the government of India to consider legal reforms, in a number of their previous reports. In 2008, Commission described the law as “anachronistic” and argued that attempted suicide was the “manifestation of a diseased condition of mind deserving treatment and care rather than an offence to be visited with punishment.” (Government of India, Law Commission of India, Humanization and Decriminalization of Attempt to Suicide, Report No. 210, 7 (Oct. 2008), Law Commission website.)

The amending legislation will first be taken up by the Cabinet before it is tabled in Parliament. (Bharti Jain, Government Decriminalizes Attempt to Commit Suicide, Removes Section 309, THE TIMES OF INDIA (Dec. 10, 2014).)