Author:Alveena Siddiqui, IV year of LL.B(Hons.) From Unity P.G And Law College.
Co-author:Mohd Mukarram, IV year of LL.B(Hons.) From Unity P.G And Law College.
According to the American College Health Association (ACHA), the suicide rate among young adults ages 15–24 has tripled since the 1950s. Suicide is currently the second most common cause of death among college students.
These young people are often away from home and friends for the first time. They're living with strangers, far from their support systems, and working under intense pressure—with disrupted sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns. You could hardly design a more stressful atmosphere, particularly when depression or other mental health issues enter the picture.
In a recent study published in Depression and Anxiety of more than 67,000 college students from more than 100 institutions, one in five students have had thoughts of suicide, with 9% making an attempt and nearly 20% reporting self-injury .One in four students reported being diagnosed with a mental illness.
Suicides among girls ages 15 to 19 doubled from 2007 to 2015, when it reached its highest point in 40 years while the suicide rate for boys ages 15 to 19 grew by 30% from 2007 to 2015.Meanwhile, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.
This year, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), World Health Organization, and other WFMH member organizations amalgamated, purporting at expanding the cognizance of mental health and lowering the increased gaps in catering to the need of mental health issues across the countries.
The strewed Covid-19, as it is now has had a catastrophic impact, making over 320 million students stranded at home, while nearly 9.64 million teachers remained no longer in the physical classroom. For more than a year and half since institutions closed, they have been unable to drive their mental world at home isolation.
The outbreak has refrained young minds from going to school, play with peers, and participate in social gatherings. High-screening on the computer and feeling lonely in the digital ecosystems is affecting their mental and emotional health. Feelings of fear and helplessness heighten their levels of anxiety and distress.
It swells the burden of mental illness and wreaks havoc on millions of lives, propelling many of them to untimely demise by committing suicide.
SUCIDES IN INDIA
In 2019, at least one student died by suicide every hour in India. The year recorded the highest number of student suicides, 10,335, in the past 25 years for which data is available.
Between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2019, India lost more than 1.7 lakh students to suicide. Of these, nearly 52% were reported in the past decade, while the remaining 85,824 were reported between 1995 and 2008, according to the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB). Both sociologists and psychologists TOI spoke with said depression, mental health issues and addiction to drugs were the most common reasons.
More than one lakh lives are lost every year due to suicide in India. In the last three decades (from 1975 to 2005), the suicide rate increased by 43%. The rates were approximately the same in 1975 and 1985; from 1985 to 1995 there was an increase of 35% and from 1995 to 2005, the increase was 5%.
However, the male-female ratio has been stable at around 1.4 to 1. There is a wide variation in suicide rates within the country. The southern states of Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have a suicide rate of >15 while in the Northern States of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jammu and Kashmir, the suicide rate is <3. This variable pattern has been stable for the last 20 years. Higher literacy, a better reporting system, lower external aggression, higher socioeconomic status and higher expectations are the possible explanations for the higher suicide rates in the southern states (Vijayakumar L, 2008).
Majority of the suicides (37.8%) in India are by those below the age of 30 years. The fact that 71% of suicides in India are by persons below the age of 44 years imposes a huge social, emotional and economic burden on society.
The near equal suicide rates of young men and women and consistently narrow male :female ratio denotes that more Indian women die by suicide than their Western counterparts. Poisoning (34.8%), hanging (31.7%) and self-immolation (8.5%) were the common methods used to commit suicide (accidental deaths and suicide 2007).
Two large epidemiological verbal autopsy studies in rural Tamil Nadu reveal that the annual suicide rate is six to nine times the official rates. If these figures are extrapolated it suggests that there are at least half a million suicides in India every year. It is estimated that one in 60 persons are affected by suicide. It includes both, those who have attempted suicide and those who have been affected by the suicide of a close family or friend. Thus, suicide is a major public and mental health problem which demands urgent action.
Causes of Students Suicide
1. Family Issues
Parents pressurise their wards to keep performing. Failing their expectations in the world of competition, students contemplate suicide to escape from day-to-day life of neglect, condemnation and ridicule.
2. Mental Health
Mental health is the most neglected aspect of our society. When students are exposed to world of competition, they undergo many changes. Those who are unable to cope up with the rapid pace of life, they often feel abandoned and worthless. This initiates the feeling of depression that later takes a larger form.
3. Social Attitude
Social parameters established by society expect students and adolescents to behave in a particular manner. When they fail to fit in, they are tabooed and often ostracised. Depression is considered as a stigma that deters people to speak out about their condition.
4. Peer Pressure
Almost all of us have faced the peer pressure in our life. But today, it’s playing a larger role in shaping the thought-process and actions. As a result, students are indulging in practices that don’t suit them and later turn out to be disastrous for their well-being.
21st century education is only producing products that can be sold in the job market. Important aspects of education like mental well-being, happiness, positive thinking , etc. are completely side lined.
The list is inexhaustible. So, I’m confining the causes to broadly five aforementioned categories.
Major causes of suicide in India
The NCRB Report 2020 reveals that suicides were mostly caused by ‘family problems’ and ‘illness,’ accounting for 33.6 percent and 18.0 percent of total suicides in 2020, respectively. Other reasons for suicide included;
Drug abuse/addiction (6.0 percent),
Marriage related issues’ (5.0 percent),
Love affairs (4.4 percent),
Bankruptcy or indebtedness (3.4 percent),
Unemployment (2.3 percent),
Failure in examination (1.4 percent),
Professional/career problem(1.2 percent), and
Poverty (1.2 percent).
In 2020, a total of 10,677 people working in the agriculture industry (including 5,579 farmers/cultivators and 5,098 agricultural labourers) committed themselves, representing for 7.0 percent of all suicide victims (1,53,052) in the nation. There were 5,335 men and 244 women among the 5,579 farmer/cultivator suicides. There were 4,621 males and 477 females among the 5,098 suicides committed by agricultural labourers in 2020.
LAW RELATING TO SUCIDE IN INDIA
Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 : an insight Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 reads 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.” The intention of the legislature while formulating this provision was clear as the provision implies that if someone tries to commit suicide and fails to achieve his or her goal, he or she may face simple imprisonment for up to one year, a fine, or both.
The subject matter of this provision is ‘suicide’ and understanding the same is significant with respect to the discussed provision. Suicide is made up of two words, ‘sui’, which means self, and ‘cide’, which signifies killing. In other words, a person committing suicide must do it themselves, regardless of the tools they use to accomplish their goal of killing themselves. One of the prime issues concerning suicide is that the same is not specifically defined in the Indian Penal Code, 1860. In a divergent sense, every act that brings a person closer to death and further from life is a crime. The intention, no doubt, maybe deduced from a variety of circumstances, including the method used to commit suicide.
However, the veracity of these inferences may be questioned. As the simple acts themselves may not imply a specific intention, various people may engage in the same or similar behaviours with different intentions, and not all of them are intended to end one’s life
The Law Commission of India proposed abolition of Section 309 in its 42nd Report (1971), stating that the criminal provision is “severe and unreasonable.” The Government of India approved the suggestion after the aforementioned Law Commission’s Report was made public, and the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1972 was tabled in the Rajya Sabha to remove Section 309. The Bill was referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and after receiving its report, the Rajya Sabha approved it in November 1978 with minor revisions. The Bill was pending in the Sixth Lok Sabha when it was dissolved in 1979, as a result, it expired.
Constitutionality of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860
In order to understand the constitutionality of Section 309 of the Code of 1860, certain landmark decisions by courts across India need to be taken into account, as have been provided hereunder.
Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra (1986)
Constitutionality of Section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 first came up for consideration before the Bombay High Court in the case of Maruti Shripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra (1986). The reasonings that the Court had provided before arriving at its decision of striking down Section 309, have been elaborated below:
The desire to die, and the right to die, are both natural human emotions. Whatever circumstances lead to a person ending or terminating their life, arrive at that person’s voluntary decision. The conflation of the conditions that drive or encourage a person to end their lives and the act of ending one’s life leads to the incorrect conclusion that the desire to end one’s life is not natural. It’s also important to distinguish between the unnatural cause of death with that of the natural cause. The methods used to take one’s life can range from hunger to strangling and are often unnatural. But, the desire which leads one to resort to the means is not unnatural.
Suicide or attempts to commit suicide are not a normal part of life. It’s an unusual occurrence, an extraordinary circumstance, or a peculiar personality feature. Abnormality and uncommonness aren’t unnatural just because they’re unusual. Mental diseases and imbalances, unbearable physical ailments, affliction by socially feared diseases, decrepit physical condition preventing the person from taking normal care of his body and performing normal chores, loss of all senses or desire for the pleasures of any of the senses, extremely cruel or unbearable conditions of life making it painful to live, a sense of shame or disgrace or a need to defend one’s honour or a complete loss of interest in life or a sense of shame, are among the various circumstances in which suicide is committed or attempted.
The difficulty in coming up with a convincing definition cannot be used to argue for the legitimacy of the provision of Section 309, especially if it is penal in nature. Because there is no logical definition or even standards to separate the felonious from the non-felonious behaviour, Section 309 stands arbitrary and in violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. Arbitrariness and equality, as it is aptly remarked, are adversaries. The provision of Section 309 further contravenes the equality established by Article 14 since they treat all attempts to commit suicide in the same way, regardless of the circumstances in which they are made. When it is realized that some people commit themselves to escape the brutal conditions of life, which are a punishment to them at all times, the arbitrariness of the section becomes even more apparent. The relief from such a monotonous existence is, in fact, a blessing for them. Despite this, a society that is either incapable or uninterested in changing a person’s living conditions wants to penalise him/her for attempting self-help or self-deliverance.
When the provisions of Section 309 are contrasted to those of Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the discriminating nature of the former becomes particularly prominent. When it comes to defining murder, the legislature has gone to great lengths to distinguish between culpable homicide that amounts to murder and culpable homicide that does not, and has prescribed different sentences for the two. Section 309, on the other hand, imposes the same punishment on all people, regardless of the circumstances in which they attempt suicide. This is odd, given that murder is a more severe crime with far-reaching ramifications for other members of society.
If the objective of the imposed penalty is to dissuade future suicide attempts, it is difficult to see how this can be accomplished by punishing individuals who have attempted suicide. Those who attempt suicide due to mental illnesses deserve psychiatric therapy rather than incarceration in person cells, where their condition is likely to worsen, leading to additional illness. Those who attempt suicide due to severe physical ailments, incurable diseases, torture, or a decrepit physical state created by old age or disablement, require nursing facilities rather than jails to prevent them from attempting suicide again.
Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 was struck down by the Court on grounds that the provision is ultra vires the Constitution being violative of Articles. 14 and 21.
Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996)
The Supreme Court’s constitution bench in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996) held that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution does not include the right to die or the right to be killed, thereby providing some clarity on the constitutionality of Section 309 of the Code of 1860. The Apex Court’s observations are provided hereunder:
The importance of ‘sanctity of life’ should not be disregarded. Article 21 guarantees the protection of life and personal liberty, and extinction of life cannot be construed to encompass the protection of life by any stretch of the imagination. Whatever the philosophical justification exists for allowing a person to end his/her life by suicide, the Court considered it impossible to read Article 21 to include the right to die as a fundamental right provided therein. Although the ‘right to life’ is a natural right enshrined in Article 21, suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life, and hence incompatible with the idea of the right to life.
Article 21’s word ‘life’ has been interpreted as life with human dignity to give it meaning and content. Any component of life that makes it dignified may be read into it, but not that which extinguishes it and, as a result, is incompatible with life’s continuous existence, culminating in the effacing of the right itself. If there is a right to die, it is essentially incompatible with the right to life, just as death is incompatible with life. The Supreme Court had also held that there is no requirement of awarding any minimum sentence with respect to the offence of attempt to suicide. The sentence of imprisonment or fine is not compulsory but discretionary. Taking these reasons into consideration, the Apex Court concluded that Section 309 is not violative of constitutional provisions and therefore is valid.
Prevention can take to reduce Suicide
1. Promoting mental resilience through optimism and connectedness.
2. Education about suicide, including risk factors, warning signs, and the availability of help.
3. Increasing the proficiency of health and welfare services in responding to people in need. This includes better training for health professionals and employing crisis counselling organizations.
4. Reducing domestic violence, substance abuse, and divorce are long-term strategies to reduce many mental health problems.
5. Reducing access to convenient means of suicide (e.g., toxic substances, handguns).
6. Limit the availability of potentially lethal amounts and dosages of prescribed medications.
7. Reducing the quantity of dosages supplied in packages of non-prescription medicines
8. Interventions targeted at high-risk groups.
9. Family is basic unit where emotional bonding, social support and training for resilience building are important for the suicidal prevention.
10. Proper arrangement for general public health measures.
11. In India comprehensive community care services are promoted to provide services to those stricken with mental illness.
12. School intervention programs - emotional education in school children can reduce the incidence of suicide and suicidal attempts.
13. Government policies on employment, school welfare, education, farming, substance abuse, media guidance and public education should be taken in account for suicide prevention.
14. Professional training about assessment, diagnosis and treatment support of high-risk group's detection is required for prompt suicidal intervention.
15. There should be responsible media policy for suicide prevention.
16. Early detection and early treatment of depression and other mental disorders.
17. Enhanced access to mental health services (such as hot/on line services).
18. Attention to those suffering chronic somatic illness.
19. Arrangement for crises intervention.
20. Training gatekeepers like parents, teachers, psychologist, counselors and other professional helpers who must provide emotional support to meet the needs of different age groups.
21. Parents and teachers should not over expect from their children, especially parents should not compel to fulfill their own dreams through children.
22. Parents and other family members should give attention towards changing behaviour of child and provide help and support to handle the difficulties of life especially the teen-age issues and emotional ups and downs.
23. Educating family members or parents regarding the need to monitor their loved One’s child and to monitor to communicate observations of change or concern.
To quote Phil Donahue, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem”. Every person desires to lead a problem-free life but life is a mystery cycle surprise with what we least expect. When a person is exposed to a tragedy, he fails to analyse the surroundings and situation because of which he is not able to recognize ways to tackle the issue leading him to resort to committing suicide. Suicide is never a solution; even if it is one, it is neither desired nor encouraged. The World Health Organisation recognises suicide as a public health priority and it committed itself to work for the reduction of suicide rate globally. As far as India is concerned, suicide is now viewed as one which requires treatment more than punishment, which itself is a great start. With the direction set by law, it is the duty of every individual to act in ways which do not affect their lives and the peace of the society. Despite the 2018 Supreme Court judgement, there has been no progress on decriminalising attempt to suicide. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recorded 1637 cases under s.309 of the IPC in its 2019 report. In this context, the presumption envisaged under s. 115 of MHCA becomes crucial. It would be worthwhile reconsidering the wording of the section as the term ‘severe stress’ would lead to unnecessary ambiguity and confusion. The courts need to be mindful and make concerted efforts to move away from a narrow and categorical view of mental health towards a more multidimensional and holistic understanding of these issues. In line with the 210th report and the general trend, we must push for deletion of s.309 from the IPC as it is inhuman, irrespective of whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional.