Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Suicide and its "abetment"

The dictionary definition of "abetment" is: To approve, encourage, and support (an action or a plan of action); urge and help on.

Abetment to Suicide is a crime under Indian law.  The law states:

"306. Abetment of suicide.—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. "

Indian courts and police have been routinely arresting and prosecuting people under this law when all they did was do something which caused another person a lot of agony - enough agony to commit suicide.  A husband having an affair, a boss transferring an official, a father refusing the demands of his son, a teacher failing a student, etc. are all situations in which the person at the receiving end can undergo an emotional upheaval.  If the upheaval cannot be contained by the person's inner or outer support systems, a grave outcome might result.  Such a person might harm himself or harm others.

But it is clear (to me at least) that doing "something" that another person strongly dislikes should not be a crime.  Even if the dislike is so strong that it leads to a suicide.  If that "something" is a crime in its own right (e.g. nepotism, theft, rape) then there are enough laws to prosecute the person for that act.  

But to prosecute a person because his acts pushed someone to kill themselves is a travesty.  Because emotional immaturity of one person should not be held against another.  Because otherwise, to indulge in something unpopular or offensive (not criminal per se) would be fraught with danger.  Because otherwise, any act can result in a person being jailed.

Suppose a woman has two lovers.  She ultimately decides to marry one of them.  The other man falls into depression and commits suicide.  No person in their right mind would criminalize the choice made by the woman.  But how is this situation significantly different from a husband who has an affair which pushes his wife into depression and suicide?

A non-criminal act which is not intended to hurt anyone but which ends up being unacceptable to someone does not thereby become a crime.  The law cannot be subject to emotion.

Emotional agitation of others must not be a factor in criminalizing someone.  We call a region a "police state" when people live in fear of being randomly prosecuted because someone in power disliked them.  Similar is this kind of "abetment state" where you have to be careful lest someone harm themselves because they felt bad about something you did.

Abetment of suicide must only mean a situation wherein a person actively encouraged someone to kill themselves, or helped them with the means for ending their life.  Merely doing something offensive is not the same thing.

I wish Indian courts and the Indian police understood this.


Anonymous said...

Recently this doctor (whose medical licence was suspended in 2014) caused a furor by upping the anti and advocating that every adult of sound mind [what's that ha!] should have the right to take their own life whether emotionally disturbed, physically ill or not.

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to (what I consider) one of your best blog conversations.

It was regarding are we or are we not responsible for inflaming (or not) each others feelings. Your stance back then was, yes we are responsible. e.g."There is not an all-out war in the real world simply because in their interactions, people are generally considerate of others' feelings and passions, and therefore many potential conflicts are kept at bay.

Although that conversation wasn't about whether people might commit suicide over another person's insensitivity to their feelings, and was in regards those claiming 100% harmlessness yet taking no responsibility for how their interactions might inflame another person's feelings -- the pretext being that each individual is responsible for activating their own emotional reactions. Yet back then you vehemently disagreed with such a stance. Do you now agree with it?

Anonymous said...

isn't you thoughts are biased on many things now ?.. When you had less experienced life you were wiser , however, now it seems experiences( bitter once ) made you biased, I would not say your writing has any bitter tone but it has biasness and sometimes doesn't make sense in practical world ..

Harmanjit Singh said...

@anonymous at 8.12pm:

You raise a good point.

I still think that harmlessness is not the best that a man can achieve. He can actively work to reduce his and others' suffering.

But if someone is crazy or unreasonable, I wouldn't advocate adhering to their notion of what is emotionally acceptable to them.

There is a wide line between being a good human being who is sensitive to others' feelings, and being a person who walks on eggshells lest a person close to them have a tantrum.

It depends upon the sanity of the other person. There are sane emotional responses which might be full of distress, and one should try to avoid them. But there are also extreme emotional responses for which a large part of responsibility also rests with the other person.

Yes, one has SOME responsibility in any relationship or interaction, but the other ALSO has a lot of responsibility.

Moreover, to criminalize annoying but otherwise legal behavior because of another person's emotional reaction is draconian.

Anonymous said...

@ Harman

I must admit were it not for your blogs on the social mores and laws of India (some changing some not) there is much I would not know. So thanks for the education.

I'm a resident of a western nation with a more autonomous population than India and since our Indian migrant population is growing now it helps immensely to understand why they behave the way they do.