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This article explains what is abetment in brief, then what is the abetment of suicide, how can you prove that one has committed the crime of abetment, what can and what cannot be considered as abetment of suicide.
This also explains the constitutional validity of whether euthanasia is a crime of abetment of suicide or not. Further, the burden of proof in case of abetment to suicide is discussed which includes the presumption of guilt by the court of law in some cases with respect to the crime of abetment of suicide.
A person who himself/herself does not commit the crime but due to their involvement and/or encouragement and/or instigation the crime takes place through another who is so encouraged or instigated. This instigation or encouragement or involvement is known as abetment. The requirement of abetment as per section 107 must be fulfilled to hold anyone as an abettor.
For example – “If a public officer is authorized by a warrant from a Court of Justice to apprehend Z. B, knowing that fact and also that C is not Z, wilfully represents to A that C is Z, and thereby intentionally causes A to apprehend C. Here B abets by instigation the apprehension of C, as per section 107”.
“107. Abetment of a thing.—A person abets the doing of a thing, who—
- (Firstly)— Instigates any person to do that thing; or
- (Secondly) —Engages with one or more other person or persons in any conspiracy for the doing of that thing, if an act or illegal omission takes place in pursuance of that conspiracy, and in order to the doing of that thing; or
- (Thirdly) — Intentionally aids, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of that thing.
Explanation 1.—A person who, by wilful misrepresentation, or by wilful concealment of a material fact which he is bound to disclose, voluntarily causes or procures, or attempts to cause or procure, a thing to be done, is said to instigate the doing of that thing.
Explanation 2.—Whoever, either prior to or at the time of the commission of an act, does anything in order to facilitate the commission of that act, and thereby facilitate the commission thereof, is said to aid the doing of that act.”
II. Abetment of Suicide
Suicide is illegal though not punishable under Indian Penal Code as other offences, as the person who commits suicide however dies. So the person whoever attempts to commit suicide and abets the suicide. the abetment of suicide is dealt in two sections in IPC, which are as follows-
“Section 305. Abetment of suicide of child or insane person.— If any person under eighteen years of age, any insane person, any delirious person, any idiot, or any person in a state of intoxication, commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
“Section 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.”
It is the duty of the lawmakers to punish such people who await someone’s death by abetting them to end their own life. The law considers that whoever abets the crime is a criminal as it opposes the public policy and is seen as a threat to society. So no one is allowed to “instigate” or “encourage” or “aid” any person to commit suicide.
As it is made clear what is abetment. the act of abetting suicide is also required to prove what actually amounts to abetment and whether it is satisfying the definition of abetment. such as a mere suggestion or remark to commit suicide cannot be considered as abetment as per section 107. Hence, there must be either instigation or encouragement or cooperation or provocation etc.
It is sometimes difficult to prove that suicide has been committed only due to abetment, as some people might have thought their problems to be the main reason and have committed or attempted to commit suicide.
And there may be a situation where due to torture to commit suicide has been instigated by in-laws. in the former situation, the abetment is just encouragement and not necessarily the main or only reason for the suicidee to commit suicide. But in the latter one, the abetment may be the only or main reason to commit suicide.
Hence, it differs from case to case and the court of law, in the light of the same, provides for relief that abetment need not mandatorily be the only or main reason. But should be some act done by the accused to be part of suicidee’s death or attempt to die and should not be merely an expectation of the crime.
III. Proof of Abetment
To prove that there was abetment of suicide the facts and circumstances must be taken into consideration. Like in the case of Gurbachan Singh v. Satpal Singh AIR 1990 SC 209, the deceased woman was a newly wedded bride. it was observed that the accused i.e., in-laws were abettors as the fact that the body had been subject to various injuries and physical torture.
Further, the accused never tried to stop or save the victim and did not inform her parents about the incident. And neither of them tried to call for a medical emergency to assist her. In such circumstances, it was observed that the girl was subject to torture and harassment. Thus, the court had sufficient proof that the in-laws have abetted the death or suicide of the deceased and convicted them.
Abetment of Suicide or cruelty?
Sometimes the victim is subject to cruelty which might make her think of ending her life. and this aspect clashes with the aspect of abetting of suicide. there lies a thin demarcation line between the two, which can be better understood with the help of cases. But if the woman commits suicide due to minor issues in matrimonial life, then it is neither cruelty nor abetment to suicide.
In the case of Wazir Chand v. State of Haryana (AIR 1989 SC 378), this was a case where the accused were convicted under section 306 under the Indian penal code. In the appeal, the prosecution contended the death of the woman due to burning injuries was in fact suicide due to harassment and the accused i.e., her husband and father in law were charged for abetting the same.
The defence, however, claimed that the fire was caused by accident. The court neither did accept the contention of the defence side nor did convict the accused under section 306. Because the prosecution was not able to establish the fact that the woman committed suicide. but was convicted under section 498A for cruelty against the deceased.
“SATI”- An Abetment to Suicide?
The prohibited practice of ‘Sati’ amounts to abetment to suicide if the person who is committed suicide by ending her life in the ‘Chita’ of her husband i.e., Sati. Again the persons who are abetting must be actively participating in the process and do some act or omission which satisfies the definition of abetment.
In the case of Tej Singh v. State (AIR 1958 Raj 169), there was the death of a woman’s husband. All the members who were accused followed the body to the cremation ground along with the widow in the front. when the woman was offering ‘sati’, i.e., sitting on the pyre to commit suicide, some members shouting at the back “sati mata ki jai” encouraged her to do so.
And other members surrounded the police while the pyre was set on fire along with that woman. All those members were said to have encourages her and assisted her in commiting suicide. hence, the court held all of them to be abettors of her suicide.
“Passive Euthanasia”- An Abetment to Suicide?
Passive euthanasia means to stop the medication provided by the hospital to passively end one’s life, who no more is physically alive.
In the famous case of Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India (AIR 2011 SC 1290), which involved debate regarding mercy killing i.e., passive euthanasia. the physician who was considered to be actively assisting the passive euthanasia, while she was in permanent vegetative state or brain dead state. it was observed by the court that the accused has abetted the suicide of the deceased by not providing medication or not doing anything to save life, even though the deceased was not in a state to respond or give her consent and held liable under section 306.
But again in the case of Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India (2014) 3 SCALE 1, there was a petition to the supreme court to reconsider the cases of Gian Kaur and Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug as the judgements were wrongly decided. The contention raised was that the right to life i.e., to live with dignity does include the right to die with dignity.
The person who is terminally ill and has been suffering in the hospital from a chronic disease which leads to permanent vegetation. They are made to live by external support provided by the medical authorities. The doctors are made to provide medication to people who would never recover and just provide life support systems just because it is ethically wrong for them to end the life which is artificially extended. So, the judges decided to submit the above-mentioned cases to a larger bench for further discussions.
In the case of Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India (2018) 5 SCC 1, the courts have finally decided that active euthanasia i.e., a person’s will to die by lethal drug instead of sufferings and pain, the person is protected under article 21, hence illegal to do so.
Euthanasia is also known as assisted suicide and is prohibited by law when the person undergoing medical treatment is able to make an informed decision. But when a person is not in a state to make informed decisions i.e., permanent vegetative state is outside the fold of article 21 and the physicians taking away the life support system of such people is not illegal or is lawfully valid.
Thus the passive euthanasia is not abetment to suicide. But active euthanasia is the abetment of suicide and is considered illegal and unlawful.
IV. Burden of Proof
Initially, it is the prosecution to prove that basic facts lead to the conclusion that there was suicide committed by one and the other has assisted or instigated in doing so by one’s active participation and must rely on circumstantial evidence for proving the same. But, the court may presume the abetment of suicide.
If it is proved that a woman was subjected to cruelty before her death and her death took place within seven years of marriage, then the accused who is charged with section 498A may also be charged under section 306, i.e., to have abetted her suicide.
So the person whoever is convicted under section 498A may also be tried for abetting suicide. However, this is not binding on courts. The court is not bound to charge section 306 on persons who are made convicted under section 498A. it depends upon the circumstances and facts of the case for the court to presume so.
“113A. Presumption as to abetment of suicide by a married woman.—When the question is whether the commission of suicide by a woman had been abetted by her husband or any relative of her husband and it is shown that she had committed suicide within a period of seven years from the date of her marriage and that her husband or such relative of her husband had subjected her to cruelty, the Court may presume, having regard to all the other circumstances of the case, that such suicide had been abetted by her husband or by such relative of her husband.
Explanation.—For the purposes of this section, “cruelty” shall have the same meaning as in section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860)”.
In the case of K Prema S Rao & State of Andhra Pradesh v. Yadla Srinivas Rao (AIR 2003 SC 11), the woman was subject to harassment and cruelty by her husband and family members, which made her commit suicide. the main accused who the husband was charged for cruelty on her wife for the want of his dowry demands to be fulfilled.
Although the accused was not convicted under section 304B, he was convicted under 498A. Further, the court decided to convict him under section 306 by virtue of section 113A of the Indian Evidence Act.
 s 107, Indian Penal Code 1860
 Illustration A, s 107, Indian Penal Code 1860
 s 309, Indian Penal Code 1860
 s 305-306, Indian Penal Code 1860
 Raghunath Das v. Emperor AIR 1920 Pat 502
 Naresh Marotrao v. Union of India (1995) Cr LJ 96(Bom)
 Ganga Debi v. State (Delhi Administration) (1985) 28 Del LT 35
 Swamy Prahadas v. State of Madhya Pradesh (1995) SCC 943(Cri)
 Krushanahari Debnath v. State (1995) Cr LJ 3049(Ori)
 Gurbachan Singh v. Satpal Singh AIR 1990 SC 209
 Wazir Chand v. State of Haryana AIR 1989 SC 378
 Tej Singh v. State AIR 1958 Raj 169
 E. Garrard and S. Wilkinson, ‘Passive Euthanasia’ (2005) 31(2) J Med Ethics 64
 Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v Union of India AIR 2011 SC 1290
 Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India (2014) 3 SCALE 1
 Common Cause (A Registered Society) v. Union of India (2018) 5 SCC 1
 Gurbachan Singh v. Satpal Singh AIR 1990 SC 209
 s 113A, Indian Evidence Act 1872
 K Prema S Rao & State of Andhra Pradesh v. Yadla Srinivas Rao AIR 2003 SC 11