Suicide is the act of intentionally causing one’s own death. While depression, anxiety, substance abuse are the common causes of suicides, India has an additional special cause which includes abetting an individual to commit suicide due to cruelty accrued through dowry and other marital demands. The wife, in such a circumstance is left with no choice but to commit suicide as she prefers dying over living in such a cruel environment. Indian Penal Code recognises such cruelty arising in a marital set-up and also abetment of suicide separately.
Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 recognises Abetment to suicide as an offence and reads as “If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.” Abetment in its literal sense means, the instigation of a person to do (or not to do) an act in a certain way, or aid given by some person to another either on his own choice or circumstances arising out of joint and constructive liability. As per section 107 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 person abets the doing of a thing, who firstly, instigates any person to do that thing; or engages with one or more other person or persons in any conspiracy for the doing of that thing, if an act or illegal omission lakes place in pursuance of that conspiracy, and in order to the doing of that thing; or intentionally aids, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of that thing. Abetment to suicide involves a mental process of instigating an individual or intentionally helping a person in taking his life on his very own. This section was incorporated in order to prevent and further penalise such a person who is actively involved in aiding, instigating or conspiring in terminating one’s life. In order to prove abetment to suicide, three criterion need to be fulfilled. Firstly, there must be commission of suicide by the deceased, secondly, the accused must have abetted the commission of such a suicide, and lastly, the accused must have the required mens rea, that is, the mental element or intention to abet the committing the suicide.
In India, there have been and are numerous cases of abetment of suicide, especially that of married women due to the enormous marital demands in the form of dowry and other kinds. Women are often tortured and treated with cruelty in the name of age old practices; instigating, encouraging and compelling them to take the drastic step of ending their own life by committing suicide, as they are left with no other choice. Section 498A lays down the punishment for subjecting a wife to cruelty with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine. Cruelty includes a) any wilful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or b)harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.
A simple reading of the meaning of cruelty under section 498A along with Section 306 which talks about abetment to suicide shows that the if a woman is driven to commit suicide due to the wilful conduct of the husband or his relative as a result of which the woman commits suicide, then a conviction under Section 498A coupled with the commission of suicide of the woman, must, in normal circumstances be enough to convict such a person or persons for abetment to suicide too. However, the Supreme Court in the case of Gurjit Singh v. State of Punjab held otherwise and stated that there shall not be an automatic conviction under section 306 IPC merely because an individual is held guilty under Section 498A.
The Court added that merely proving cruelty would not amount to a presumption for abetment to suicide because in order to prove conviction under Section 306 IPC, the prosecution has to prove that the act or illegal omission of cruelty was of such a grave nature that it necessarily resulted in the committing of suicide, whereas, the conviction under Section 498A may or may not be of such a grave nature. Although, sub-section a) under Explanation is similar to the ingredients as under Section 498A, sub-section b) in itself also amounts to cruelty, the ingredients under this sub-section is very different from that present under Section 498A. This difference necessitates the importance of taking into consideration both the offences separately as conviction under Section 498A would be as a result of offence falling under any of the two sub-sections, but only one of the two is similar to the ingredients under Section 306. Moreover, the gravity of the offence under Section 498A explanation a) and 306 is also very different. While the punishment for abetment to suicide under Section 306 is for a maximum term of ten years which would include fine, commission of an offence under Section 498A would result in a maximum term of three years of imprisonment including fine, by which we can infer the difference in their nature and gravity.
In the light of same, the Supreme Court held that while both the sections may deal with somewhat similar subject matter, due diligence must be exercised by not confusing and making convictions under the two sections consequently, just because there is availability and fulfilment of some conditions under one section in another as well.
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