Suicides are definitely not a panacea to any issue. But in frustration and as a mode of escapism and as an act of desperation people commit suicide or attempt to commit suicide. At times it is for their own end and at other times to catch the attention of others hoping that their end may bring reform or change.
S Anitha’s suicide was against NEET. Muthukumar set himself ablaze for the cause of Tamil Elam. Sasiperumal, an anti-liquor lobbyist collapsed from the mobile tower while protesting for total prohibition. Now we have the case of suicide by hanging of Dinesh, a teenager - an aspiring medical graduate due to his alcoholic father and fed up of the State which vends liquor. His suicide note ought to be an eye opener to the State authorities to ensure total prohibition and promotion of rehabilitative measures for alcoholics at the earliest.
Dinesh and Anitha were just 17. They had passed their public exams with flying colours. They had set their eyes on medical profession. They had thus set goals, were ambitious and were achievers in their own ways. But despite good education and marks they failed in their effort to live. Every year after the announcement of public exams results a number of students commit suicides due to failures. Despite increase in such suicides except for some NGOs like SNEHA which extend support of counselling even through telephone calls, serious efforts have not been made by the State to prevent such incidents. Some initiatives happen in a knee jerk manner and die a natural death after the initial inaugural fanfares.
Attempt to commit suicide was a criminal offence under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. The law commission and the Supreme Court of India found this anachronistic and the same has been amended with a new bill. In the objects and statements for the amendment it is said that “The mental state of a person who commits suicide deserves understanding and careful intervention, and the blunt instrument of criminal sanction is markedly ill-suited for this purpose”. Thus as on date, attempt to commit suicide has been decriminalised. Presently, the authorities are empowered to institutionalise/detain anyone who attempts to commit suicide under the Mental Healthcare Act and counsel, reform/rehabilitate the victim. The mental state of the person attempting to commit suicide has to be understood, careful intervention be done and be dealt with concern, care and sensitivity. Criminalising such attempts has never been a remedy to the issue. Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare, 2017 says: (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.
It is a pertinent to know that as early as 2014 the Central Government issued a notification saying that in view of the recommendation of the Law Commission and in consonance with the rulings of the Supreme Court etc. it had decided to delete Section 309 IPC as 18 States and 4 Union Territories supported its move for such deletion. It was in 2017 that the Mental Healthcare Act was passed which is to come into force from 7th July, 2018. Thus the lethargy with which such an important subject of life and death is dealt with is clear by the inordinate delays in dealing with this issue.
Apart from law it is essential that people in general, teens and vulnerable age group of youngsters in particular are given lessons on what is life and reasonable expectations. In this age of consumerism and virtual fantasies we are far removed from pragmatic realisms. Ignorant about what lies beyond life, the teen writes in his suicide note that his soul will not be in peace until the State enforces prohibition. Discourses on life and death, the realities of life, legitimate expectations, meaning to living and that there is no meaning in forced death / suicide ought to be instilled in the minds of the common people.
State should enforce Directive Principles of State Policies such as total prohibition as envisaged by the framers of our Constitution and make it a reality. Defending the sale of liquor by the State government and promoting its sale for economic reasons only undermines our Governments’ lack of sincerity in abiding by the Constitution which is the guiding force for its very existence. Social pressures have been built up by various groups vociferously staging protests and some giving their lives for prohibition. It is high time the State stops being a silent spectator to losing lives and filing false cases against those protesting for prohibition but makes prohibition a reality with rehabilitative and reformative steps to combat alcoholism.
The writer is a Senior Advocate, Madras High Court