Suicide Laws in India

A recent look at the suicide prevention laws in India and the avenues available for mental health in light of the National Suicide Prevention Day on 10th September. The MHCA has alleviated some of the stigma around suicide and its criminalization.

Wed Jun 29 2022 | National & Social | Comments (0)


The rate at which suicide has been increasing in the country has been staggering off late, with the numbers increasing steadily since 2016. Post this year the number of suicides in India has increased to a number of 230,314 in total, making suicide one of the most common causes of death in the nation. The age groups wherein such a tragedy occurs is seen to be between15-39. With mounting stress and lack of awareness, especially with the taboo associated with suicide and mental health, this phenomenon has only become more rampant.

It has been documented that nearly 800,000 people die by suicide all over the world each year out of which 135,000 persons, which constitutes about 17%, are residents of India, a nation which accounts for about 17.5% of the total world population. Historical data suggests that between 1987 and 2007, the rate of suicide has even increased from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000 person with higher suicide rates in the southern and eastern states of India. With laws for punishment for suicide and a further lack of awareness, this number has been increasing at an alarming rate with the legislation doing very little to combat mental illness in the country.

As far as legislation goes, section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, deals with attempt to committing suicide. Attempt to commit suicide states that whoever attempts to commit suicide or tries to undertake any act towards the commission of such an offence, will be punished under the law with imprisonment which lasts for a term which may extend up till a year or with a fine or with both.

However, due to the highly controversial aspect of this law and with new awareness for mental health issues and the normalisation of the same, this Section has come under the scrutiny for many humanitarian reasons. Even back in 1996, a debate had arisen in the case of Gian Kaur V State of Punjab wherein it had been argued that the basic premise of section 309 of the IPC violated Article 21 of the Indian constitution that stated that each and every person had the right to live. Hence, based on this right it was further argued that if an individual possesses the right to live, then such an individual also possessed the right to terminate his own life. However, this premise was not taken  well and it had been immediately struck down believing that there cannot be any attribution to constitutionality over this argument, which thereby made it invalid and void under the law.

The controversy with regards to IPC Section 309

The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017

The Mental Healthcare Act had been enacted on 7th April 2017, with a view to provide protection and much needed respite to individuals suffering from any mental illnesses which have become as common as the common cold now. The main point of enacting this has been to spread much needed awareness that any attempt on one’s  own life is the result of a psychiatric problem wherein the dopamine and serotonin levels of the brain decrease to such an extent that it leads to an imbalance causing severe depression and downward spiralling thoughts. It is important to note that such a condition occurs due to repeated emotional abuse, which, in turn, causes such a chemical reaction or disruption which can and must only be cured through good medication, support and  counselling. Attaching taboo to this medical issue is akin to attaching taboo to a common cold or a fever. Everything occurs as a symptom of the condition inside the body. Section 115 mentions about the presumption of severe stress in case of an attempt to suicide as mentioned below:

The current status of Section 309 and the Punishment

Suicide Prevention bodies and helplines in India

Over the years, a number of organizations, spreading awareness, helping and  providing aid to persons suffering from mental illness have been established. Some of the noteworthy ones have been given below:

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