Criminalisation of Attempted Suicide in India Hinders Effective Suicide Prevention Response
Volume II, Issue I, 2019
It is estimated 187,000 suicide deaths in India in 2010, and almost half of all suicides (92,000) were due to pesticide self-poisoning. Addressing the problem of suicide is hindered by the underreporting due to stigma and fear of negative consequences on the part of survivors and affected families. Status of attempted suicide in India is ambiguous. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) states: “whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offense shall be punished with simple imprisonment or with fine. The Mental Healthcare Act of 2017 introduced a public health approach in India and was heralded as decriminalization of attempted suicide. The Act states, “Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code. Government has a duty to “provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to suicide. Despite the passage of this act, there is no evidence that approach to treating suicide survivors in India has changed. As in cases of suicide and attempted suicide, if a person is admitted to hospital, still staff needs to open medical-legal case (MLC) and report it to the police. Even though Section 309 of IPC is rarely enforced (ref), there is a widely shared perception in the community and among government officials that suicide and attempted suicide is a punishable offence leading to negative consequences and persecution for survivors and affected families. This perception increases stigma associated with suicide, pushes the problem underground by discouraging suicide reporting and help – seeking behaviour.