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Report No. 210

3. Previous Reports of The Law Commission of India

3.1. The Law Commission had undertaken revision of the Indian Penal Code as part of its function of revising Central Acts of general application and importance. In its 42nd Report submitted in June, 1971, the Commission recommended, inter alia, repeal of section 309. The relevant paras of this Report are quoted below:

16.31. Section 309- suicide in the dharma shastras. 'Section 309 penalises an attempt to commit suicide. It may be mentioned that suicide was regarded as permissible in some circumstances in ancient India. In the Chapter on "The hermit in the forest", Manu's Code says,-

"31. Or let him walk, fully determined and going straight on, in a north-easterly direction, subsisting on water and air, until his body sinks to rest.

32. A Brahmana having got rid of his body by one of those modes (i.e. drowning, precipitating burning or starving) practised by the great sages, is exalted in the world of Brahamana, free from sorrow and fear."

Two commentators on Manu, Govardhana and Kulluka, say that a man may undertake the mahaprasthana (great departure) on a journey which ends in death, when he is incurably diseased or meets with a great misfortune, and that, because it is taught in the Sastras, it is not opposed to the Vedic rules which forbid suicide. To this Max Muller adds a note as follows:-

"From the parallel passage of Apas tambha II, 23, 2, it is, however, evident that a voluntary death by starvation was considered the befitting conclusion of a hermit's life. The antiquity and general prevalence of the practice may be inferred from the fact that the Jaina ascetics, too, consider it particularly meritorious."'

16.32. Should attempt to commit suicide be punishable? 'Looking at the offence of attempting to commit suicide, it has been observed by an English writer:

"It seems a monstrous procedure to inflict further suffering on even a single individual who has already found life so unbearable, his chances of happiness so slender, that he has been willing to face pain and death in order to cease living. That those for whom life is altogether bitter should be subjected to further bitterness and degradation seems perverse legislation."

Acting on the view that such persons deserve the active sympathy of society and not condemnation or punishment, the British Parliament enacted the Suicide Act in 1961 whereby attempt to commit suicide ceased to be an offence.'

16.33.Section 309 to be repealed. 'We included in our Questionnaire the question whether attempt to commit suicide should be punishable at all. Opinion was more or less equally divided. We are, however, definitely of the view that the penal provision is harsh and unjustifiable and it should be repealed.'

3.2.1. Clause 126 of the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1972, introduced in the Council of States on 11.12.1972, provided for the omission of section 309. It was stated in the 'Notes on Clauses' appended to the Bill that the said penal provision is harsh and unjustifiable, and that a person making an attempt to commit suicide deserves sympathy rather than punishment.

3.2.2. Clause 131 of the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1978, as passed by the Council of States on 23.11.1978, correspondingly carried the above change.

3.2.3. As the House of the People was dissolved in 1979, the Bill, though passed by the Council of States, lapsed.

3.3. In 1995, pursuant to the reference made by the Government of India, the Law Commission undertook a comprehensive revision of the Indian Penal Code, with special reference to the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1978, in the light of the changed socio-legal scenario. The 156th Report of the Law Commission, submitted in August, 1997, after the judgment in Gian Kaur, recommended retention of section 309, IPC. Chapter VIII of the said Report is reproduced below:



Humanization and Decriminalization of attempt to Suicide Back




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