When it comes to religion, even the Supreme Court treads with caution. The apex body earlier this week suspended Rajasthan High Court’s ban on Santhara – a religious practice in which a Jain starves himself to death. This dated practice is undertaken mostly by the sick and the aged.
The High Court had declared that Santhara amounted to suicide, but because there is a religious connection, it is dangerous territory. No one wants six million Jains to storm the streets!
It’s really ironical. While the practice of Santhara will carry on legally, suicides will be treated as criminal acts, punishable by law. So if you decide to end your life, make sure you are really gone, because if your attempt is unsuccessful, you will be arrested, fined, and jailed!
And I am thinking, where is the sense in all this?
A person will commit, or attempt to commit, suicide only when he sees no hope, no point in living any further. He has reached the end of the road and there is nothing binding. He has fallen to the depths of despair and living a minute extra is causing him more pain than he can endure.
Instead of rehabilitating and helping the troubled man get back on track, the Indian law imprisons him. The state is not sensitive to such people, it is not responding to the root cause. People who attempt suicide need critical care. They need counselling and a fresh perspective to life, they need a trigger that instils the will to live. They need to be embraced, not threatened with jail time.
A suicide attempt is not an act of crime, it is the culmination of deep-rooted, unsolvable issues that threaten to take lives apart. Anyone who wants to die is a very disturbed man. We need to show them compassion, not the iron hand of law. That man is broken already, why is there a need to put him behind bars and compound his misery?
The suicide rate in India is alarming, but the solution lies in rehabilitating them, not imprisoning them as criminals, because they are not!
More than 1.5 lakh people commit suicide every year! In every three seconds, a person attempts suicide. While you read this, over 100 people might have attempted to take away their lives.
Recently, the incident of a 17 year-old MBBS student committing suicide in AIIMS made disturbing headlines. It has become a normal occurrence. According to a report provided by India’s National Crime Records Bureau, more than 1 lakh people committed suicide in 2012. The key reasons cited were family problems and illnesses.
Those who failed in the attempt were charged with section 309 of the IPC and faced up to one year in prison, plus fine. The need to de-criminalise suicide is most urgent and anymore dilly-dallying will only increase the number of deaths due to suicide.
Over the last decade, the suicide rate has gone up by 25%, but the successive Governments have failed to address this ever-growing stigma.
De-criminalising suicide is bound to become a reality one day. It is better if it’s done sooner, rather than later.