Suicide the leading cause of death in 15-29 age group

Recently, the data released by Census Commissioner shows that suicide is the leading cause of death in 15-29 year age group and 41% of suicides takes place in 14-30 age group.  WHO has also said that worldwide suicide is the 2nd leading cause of deaths and there are increasing cases of suicidal deaths.

What is suicide?

Suicide is the practise of taking one's own life or deliberate termination of one's own physical existence.

What are the reasons behind suicides?

There can be many reasons for an individual taking his own life.

• Stress because of competition and academic failures as was seen in Kota, relationship failure, work pressure and economic reasons. These are among the main reasons in the 14-30 year age group.

• Religious practices like 'sallekhana' or 'santhra' in Jain religion in which Jain ascetics observe starvation to death.

• Political reasons like self immolation in case of agitation and some individuals laying down their lives for the freedom of their country to set an example for others.

• Poverty, debt and resulting shame lead many towards the path of suicide.

In present times stress resulting from economic, social and peer pressure is considered to be the leading cause.

What are the institutional and societal mechanisms to tackle with the issue?

Suicide is seen from different perspectives by different people and institutions. Like different religions treat suicide differently. Christianity treat it as a moral sin, Quran declares it as a crime worse than homicide. In society many people have considerate and compassionate views regarding those who commit suicide at the same time there are people who despise such activities.

Institutionally Indian legal system criminalize attempt to suicide through section (309) of IPC. This raises the issue whether suicide should continue to be criminalized or not?

Why it was criminalized and should remain same?

• Though criminalization of suicide was based on Christian ethics but then there are some valid reasons which need consideration. In case of decriminalization several cases of abetment to suicide will be fabricated as suicide by the police, whose record is not scot free.

• In such case militants can say that, they were committing suicide and therefore should not be penalized.

• It is argued that 'right to die' is based on the principal that suicide is a private affair and doesn't affect society. But in reality it has several negative consequences for society like it fuels the atmosphere of despair which is bad.

Should attempt to suicide be decriminalized?

• The world has changed significantly since medieval times. Secularism, economy has overtaken religion and morality and happiness. Economic changes had led to disruption of societal and family life. Pressure created by competition has taken a toll on human mental, emotional, physical well being. Therefore in such circumstances those surviving suicide attempt need counseling rather than interrogation which further leads to frustration.

• Criminalization has prevented the survivors from seeking medical help and therefore the chances of their trying it remains.

• Criminalization has failed to act as a deterrent as is visible from the increasing cases of suicides.

• It is argued that 'right to die' is part of 'right to life' under article 21 and therefore sec 309 should be repealed.

• Law commission in its 42nd report in 1970 and recently in its 210 has recommended effacing the sec 309. World over countries, starting from England in 1961, are annulling the provision and Canada and New Zealand have shown that decriminalization doesn't lead to increase in suicides.

Recent happenings in the suicide issues

Recently there have been many attempts to remove the anomaly created. Government has proposed amendment in IPC for the purpose. The proposed amendment by the current government was supported by 18 states and four Union Territories. Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi continued to resist decriminalisation with no coherent argument of principle. 

Section 124(1) of the Mental Health Bill has been brought in Parliament, which lays down that “the person who attempts to commit suicide shall ordinarily be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have a mental illness and not be subject to any investigation or prosecution”. 

What should be done?

Suicide should be treated as a threat to the well being of the youth and other individuals. There should be a policy based on public health interventions through counseling etc.  Law Commission in its 210 report said, “The criminal law must not act with misplaced overzeal and it is only where it can prove to be opted and effective machinery to cure the intended evil that it should come into the picture. Suicide occurs in all ages. Life is a gift given by God and He alone can take it. Its premature termination cannot be approved by any society. But when a troubled individual tries to end his life, it would be cruel and irrational to visit him with punishment on his failure to die. It is his deep unhappiness which causes him to try to end his life. Attempt to suicide is more a manifestation of a diseased condition of mind deserving of treatment and care rather than punishment.” Sec (309) of IPC provides double punishment and therefore should be repealed.