Legislation UpdatesStatutes/Bills/Ordinances

Enacting the new Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, Parliament has decriminalised the attempt to commit suicide. A person attempting to commit suicide shall be presumed to be under severe stress and shall not be prosecuted or punished under Section 309 of the Penal Code, 1860, unless proven otherwise. Further, the appropriate government has a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to the person having the stress.

The Section reads as:

115. Presumption of severe stress in case of attempt to commit suicide.–(1) 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.
(2) The appropriate Government shall have 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 commit suicide.

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: While allowing the application for suspension of sentence of the applicant/accused under Sections 498-A and 306 read with Section 34 of the IPC, the Bench of A.M Badar, J., observed that, matrimonial cruelty is included from the definition of legal cruelty as envisaged in Section 498-A of IPC. It was further observed by the Bench that, ordinary tantrums and discord or differences in domestic life does not amount to cruelty.

In the present case, the applicant/accused married his deceased wife in 2009; however in 2014 she committed suicide by hanging herself. It was alleged by the parents of the deceased wife that the applicant/accused subjected her to cruelty, thereby abetting her to commit suicide, thus resulting in the conviction and sentencing of the applicant/accused under Sections 498-A, 107, 306 and 34 of the IPC and Section 113-A of the Evidence Act. The counsel for the applicant contended that the evidence of the alleged cruelty committed by the applicant/accused is insufficient to prove his guilt.

Perusing the facts and contentions of the case at hand, the Court delved in the interpretation of ‘cruelty’ as envisaged under Section 498-A IPC. The Court observed that a dispute between the applicant and the deceased started over a ‘kaccha chapati’ (improperly cooked bread) and other trivial matters, and the deceased took an extreme step of calling her parents and brothers. It was also observed that the deceased wife was apparently berated for her ‘bad cooking’. Upon examining the aforementioned facts, the Court stated that deceased wife’s reaction was nothing more than a hyper-sensitivity of a wife.

Examining Section 498-A  IPC, the Court observed that, “cruelty implies harsh and harmful conduct with certain intensity and persistence. It covers acts causing both physical and mental agony and torture or tyranny and harm as well as unending accusations and recrimination reflecting bitterness putting the victim thereof to intense miscarries.” Therefore for a conviction under Section 498-A, it must be shown that the conduct of the accused has stirred such strong feelings in the mind of a married woman, that she feels that dying is the only option left with her to escape the torture. Thus in the opinion of the Court, the parents of the deceased wife have spoken more about the matrimonial cruelty committed upon their daughter, than the legal cruelty, moreover the incidents mentioned by her parents which ultimately led to the suicide of wife, were more of an ordinary petulance and discord in matrimonial life. Thus the Court deemed it fit to allow the application and suspend the sentence of the applicant/accused. [Neeraj Subhash Mehta v. State of Maharashtra, 2017 SCC OnLine Bom 62, decided on 13.01.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Dealing with the scope of Section 306 IPC, the Court said that in order to convict a person under Section 306 IPC, there has to be a clear mens rea to commit an offence and that there ought to be an active or direct act leading the deceased to commit suicide, being left with no option.

The bench of Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy, JJ said that the offence punishable under Section 306 IPC is one of abetment of the commission of suicide by any person, predicating existence of a live link or nexus between the two, abetment being the propelling causative factor. The basic ingredients of this provision are suicidal death and the abetment thereof. To constitute abetment, the intention and involvement of the accused to aid or instigate the commission of suicide is imperative. Any severance or absence of any of this constituents would militate against this indictment. Remoteness of the culpable acts or omissions rooted in the intention of the accused to actualize the suicide would fall short as well of the offence of abetment essential to attract the punitive mandate of Section 306 IPC. Contiguity, continuity, culpability and complicity of the indictable acts or omission are the concomitant indices of abetment. Section 306 IPC, thus criminalises the sustained incitement for suicide.

In the present case, where a woman and her 2 daughters committed suicide, the Court noticed the materials on record do not suggest even remotely any act of cruelty, oppression, harassment or inducement so as to persistently provoke or compel the deceased to resort to self-extinction being left with no other alternative. No such continuous and proximate conduct of the appellant or his family members with the required provocative culpability or lethal instigative content is discernible to even infer that the deceased and her daughters had been pushed to such a distressed state, physical or mental that they elected to liquidate themselves as if to seek a practical alleviation from their unbearable earthly miseries.

It was explained that the courts have to be extremely careful in assessing the facts and circumstances of each case to ascertain as to whether cruelty had been meted out to the victim and that the same had induced the person to end his/her life by committing suicide, with the caveat that if the victim committing suicide appears to be hypersensitive to ordinary petulance, discord and differences in domestic life, quite common to the society to which he or she belonged and such factors were not expected to induce a similarly circumstanced individual to resort to such step, the accused charged with abetment could not be held guilty. [Gurcharan Singh v. State of Punjab, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1415, decided on 02.12.2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the Ruchika Girhotra case, the Court reduce the sentence of S.P.S. Rathore to the period already undergone by him as a special case considering his very advanced age. The Court upheld the findings as to the guilt of the appellant-accused, however, it was held that the cause of justice would be best sub-served when the sentence of the appellant-accused would be altered to the period already undergone. The counsel for the appellant had pointed out the mitigating factors i.e. old age of the appellant-accused, health ailments, responsibility of looking after the unmarried daughter suffering from congenital heart disease, past meritorious service and prolonged trial.

The appellant, IG of Police and also the founder of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA) was accused of molesting 15-year old Ruchika, the deceased who later committed suicide by consuming poison. The deceased had got herself enrolled as members of HLTA and the accused molested her in his office. Aradhana, the deceased’s friend was an eye witness. Relying upon her testimony, the Court said that she, being the sole witness to prove the actus reus, her evidence should receive some careful consideration and there is no reason for her to depose falsely against the appellant. The occurrence of the overt act is well proved by the unimpeachable testimony of the eye-witness.

Regarding the non-examination of two important site witnesses i.e. the ball picker and the Coach, the Court said that evidence is weighed and not counted. Evidence of even a single eye witness, truthful, consistent and inspiring confidence is sufficient for maintaining conviction. It is not necessary that all those persons who were present at the spot must be examined by the prosecution in order to prove the guilt of the accused. Having examined all the witnesses, even if other persons present nearby not examined, the evidence of eye-witness cannot be discarded.

With regard to the delay of about 6 days in presenting the complaint to the SHO, the Court said that in a tradition-bound non-permissive society in India, it would be extremely reluctant to admit that any incident which is likely to reflect upon chastity of a woman had occurred, being conscious of the danger of being ostracized by the society or being looked down by the society. The decision of the victim of not informing about the incident to the parents under the circumstances that the appellant was a very senior police officer of the State, was reasonable and it would not have been an easy decision for her to speak out.

The bench of V. Gopala Gowda and R.K. Agrawal, JJ said that the High Court, on proper re-appreciation of the entire evidence, came to the right conclusion that the prosecution was successful in proving the case beyond reasonable doubt and the offence punishable under Section 354 of the IPC was made out. There is devastating increase in cases relating to crime against women in the world and our country is also no exception to it. Although the statutory provisions provide strict penal action against such offenders, it is for the courts to ultimately decide whether such incident has occurred or not. The courts should be more cautious in appreciating the evidence and the accused should not be left scot-free merely on flimsy grounds. [S.P.S. Rathore v. C.B.I., 2016 SCC Online SC 985, decided on 23.09.2016]

Case BriefsHigh CourtsUniversities and Educational Institutions

Madras High Court: In the matter where the deceased had killed one of his children before committing suicide due to the exorbitant fees charged by the private school, the Court dismissed a writ petition , filed by his widow seeking for compensation from the State Government. The bench of Nooty Ramamohana Rao and S.S. Sundar, JJ; held that the deceased could have taken assistance from the Welfare Officer and philanthropic organizations where they would bear the expenditure for better education instead of taking violent measures. The petitioner had sought for relief of securing free education for the remaining and surviving child and also compensation for the double tragedy.

The Court held that the action of the husband of killing an innocent child cannot be appreciated for which if he was alive, he would have been prosecuted under Section 357 of the Criminal Procedure Court, 1973. The Court also held that the State Government, as a measure of welfare of the Society at large, has been running and maintaining several institutions for promoting the cause of education like a government-run educational institutions or philanthropic organizations for financial support. The Court, hence, held that the claim of the petitioner for payment of compensation against the State Government is an extravagant one as the State is nowhere responsible for the violent action unleashed by the husband of the petitioner. [Easwari v. Principal Secretary, Department of School Education, 2016 SCC OnLine Mad 6299 dated on 8th June, 2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Hearing the appeal by the husband and the in-laws of the victim of dowry death against the order of the High Court of Karnataka which had reversed the order of acquittal by the Trial Court, the bench of Dipak Misra and Shiva Kirti Singh, JJ upheld the order of the High Court and said that once the prosecution succeeds in establishing the component of cruelty leading to conviction under Section 498A, only in a rare case, the Court can refuse to invoke the presumption of abetment, if other requirements of Section 113A of the Evidence Act stand satisfied.

In the incident that occurred 2 decades ago, a 25-year-old women who had a 10-month old son and was mothering a life of twenty week in her womb committed suicide in the wake of dowry demands. However, the appellant had alleged that the suicide was an outcome of the victim being stopped from going to her mother’s place. The High Court, after going through the relevant oral and documentary evidence in the form of letters, conclude that the trial Judge failed to look for the relevant documents already available on the record.

The Court, agreeing with the High Court’s reasoning, held that the initial explanation that the deceased committed suicide because she was not permitted to go to her mother’s place does not inspire confidence and has rightly been rejected by the High Court as only for such a trivial matter, a hale and hearty young woman having a ten months old son and a pregnancy of twenty weeks is not at all expected to take her life. Also, no explanation was given by the accused for the injuries on the person of the victim. The Court, hence, upheld the order of the High Court and said that the order of the Trial Court was highly erroneous. [Satish Shetty v. State of Karnataka, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 589, Decided on 03.06.2016]

Law School NewsOthers

We, the concerned students, researchers and teaching faculty, of the National Law School of India University, Bangalore express deep condolences on the sad demise of Mr. Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar in Science, Technology and Society Studies Programme at the University of Hyderabad (UoH).

Rohith was one among the five Dalit students who were expelled from their hostels and were not permitted to participate in the student’s union elections, enter administration building and other common places in groups on account of an earlier alleged altercation with a member of another student organization in the University. However, in the process, the present administration ignored the discrepancies and inconsistencies in the findings and recommendations of the Proctorial Board. Rohith and his friends were vocal about the instances of caste-discrimination on campus, and have been fighting against the insensitive attitude of the administration, which has shown blatant disregard for social justice and human dignity.

This horrifying incident cannot be viewed in isolation. Our educational institutions are becoming increasingly exclusionary with time. This is also a reflection on the shrinking democratic spaces within our institutions, with dissenting voices being brutally suppressed and termed as ‘anti-national’. It is significantly an onslaught on the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India.
The Police registered an FIR on Rohith’s suicide, against few individuals, which includes the current Vice Chancellor, Prof. Appa Rao Podile. FIR was registered under IPC section 306 (Abetment of Suicide) and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Further, the students seeking end to discrimination against Dalits on campus, including Rohith, had spoken about the vindictive nature of the administration on previous occasions. We therefore demand that those who are responsible for Rohith’s suicide and social boycott of the students be made answerable and an impartial investigation must be conducted to look into the issue.
We stand in solidarity with the agitating academic community of UoH. It is our responsibility to strongly condemn any such violations of human rights and uphold the spirit of the Constitution. We condemn any attempt to shrink democratic spaces within educational institutions.
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High Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: While holding that the word ‘sasuralwale’ includes husband and relatives of husband normally residing under same roof, a bench of T.P. Sharma J upheld the conviction of the accused husband under Section 498-A and 306 of the IPC for abetment of suicide of the deceased in a case of dowry death.

In the instant appeal, the appellant (husband of the deceased) challenged the decision of the trial court which convicted him and acquitted the two other co-accused (father and mother of the appellant) from the charges under Section 498-A and 304 B of the IPC for causing death of the deceased. On account of difference of opinion by a Division Bench whether to convict the appellant or to acquit him of the charges, the matter was placed before a third Judge under Section 392 of the CrPC.

Renu Kochar, the counsel for the appellant contended that as per the evidence on record, persons in in-laws’ home (sasuralwale) have committed the offence and that the appellant cannot be made liable in case of dowry death just because he is husband of the deceased. The counsel further contended that on the same set of evidence two accused have been acquitted by the trial court, and hence the present appellant is also entitled for similar treatment. J.K.T Gilda, the counsel for the respondent placed reliance on Prem Kanwar v. State of Rajasthan (2009) 3 SCC 726, where it was held that there must exist proximate and live-link between effect of cruelty based on dowry demand and concerned death in case of dowry death.

The Court observed that on the date of incident, the deceased (wife of the appellant) sustained 100% burn injuries inside her room within 3 years of her marriage and that the appellant was sleeping on the roof adjoining to that room and the doors of staircase were latched from inside. The Court noted that these circumstances indicate the immediate act of harassment of the deceased by the appellant leading her to death. The Court while holding that the word ‘sasuralwale’ is not ambiguous and specifically includes husband and relatives of husband normally residing under same roof and does not exclude the ‘husband’, upheld the conviction of the appellant under Section 498-A of the IPC and altered the conviction under Section 304 B to Section 306 of the IPC on the finding that evidence adduced on behalf of the prosecution is sufficient to prove that the appellant has abetted the suicide of deceased but is not sufficient to prove that appellant has caused dowry death. Rajesh Kumar Kaushik v. State of Chhattisgarh, 2015 SCC OnLine Chh 16, decided on 20-02-2015.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court: In a one of a kind case where the deceased and the accused had a suicide pact, in which the accused survived, the bench of T.S. Thakur and R. Banumathi, JJ held that the death of deceased was not premeditated and the act of the accused causing death of the deceased was in furtherance of the understanding between them to commit suicide and the consent of the deceased and the act of the accused falls under Exception 5 of Section 300 IPC.

Modifying the conviction of the accused under Section 302 IPC to Section 304 Part I IPC, the Court held that it was inclined to come to this conclusion owing to the formidable circumstances favouring the accused which showed that the accused came unarmed to the house of the deceased and picked up the sword from room itself. Also, the deceased had not raised any alarm for help and the accused was also having stab injuries on his person.

After careful consideration of the arguments advanced by Mohd. Adeel Siddiqui and S.S. Shamshery, the counsels appearing for the appellant and the respondent, respectively, the Court concluded that there was adequate evidence which showed the love affair between the accused and the deceased and that their relationship was not accepted by the villagers which lead to the suicide pact between the two in which the accused survived due to intervention. The Court, hence, modified the sentence and upon noting that the accused has been in custody for more than 10 years, ordered his release. Narendra v. State of Rajasthan, Criminal Appeal No. 1902 of 2014, decided on 02.09.2014

To read the full judgment, refer SCCOnLine