The Indian Penal Code, 1860 is an ancient law which has survived and evolved over decades to serve relevance with the prevailing times. This dynamicity of the Code is credited to the Indian Legislature and the Judiciary. The letters of the Code and its interpretation in precedents, put together become the criminal substantive law of India.
The Code of 1860 consisted of two provisions providing sanctions in furtherance of ‘suicide’. Section 309, criminalized a failed attempt to commit suicide and Section 306 criminalised abetment to suicide. With the change in societal scenarios, Indian Legislature gave due regard to married women being subjected to cruelty at her matrimonial home and the increased rate of cases of suicides, thereof. As a prompt reaction to prevent such atrocities against women, the Legislature amended the Code to add Section 304-B i.e. Dowry Death in 1986. As a result, the judiciary promptly accepted the relevant charges of cruelty and abetment to suicide on case to case basis.
In 2017, through the Mental Healthcare Act, the Legislature gave due regard to mental health ailments, which might drive an individual to attempt suicide. Thus came about the decriminalization of Section 309, a step to acknowledge that individuals who fail the attempt of suicide, need medical assistance and not imprisonment.
The above two changes in law have come about only after increased rates of cases, discussions and societal sensitization on the same. Sushant Singh Rajput died by suicide on June 14, 2020 and Arnab Goswami’s arrest on November 4, 2020 are incidents which stirred up conversations not only on mental health but also on the current position of law to identify accused(s), if any, for abetment to suicide.
This article discusses the interpretation trajectory of Section 306, IPC in order to conclude on how the law of the land stands today w.r.t. this crucial section of the Code. The objective is to analyse and put together what constitutes a successful charge u/s. 306, IPC and what evidence proves the said charge in a courtroom.
The Law Governing ‘Abetment to Suicide’
“306. Abetment of Suicide. – If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of 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.”
Thus, charge u/s. 306 is attracted when –
- The victim has died by suicide, and
- The accused has abetted the victim to commit suicide.
It is important to enlist the elements of ‘abetment’. Section 107 of the Code provides for the same.
“107. Abetment of a Thing. – A person abets the doing of a thing, who –
First. – Instigates any person to do that thing; or
Secondly. – Engages with one or more other person(s) 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.”
Therefore, the Code successfully provides for the constituents of abetment, which when satisfied, in addition with victim’s death by suicide, shall form a charge u/s. 306 on the accused.
However, even when the letter of law provides for all elements which constitute the crime of abetment to suicide, charge u/s. 306 qualifies as one of the most difficult crimes to be proven in a courtroom. The said can be deduced from the language of section 107. The vocabulary defining the elements of abetment i.e. ‘instigates’, ‘engages’ and ‘intentionally aids’ are susceptible to multiple interpretations on a case to case basis.
Thus, it became extremely crucial for the Indian judiciary and especially the Supreme Court of India to interpret and set precedents establishing the standard of proof which qualify to successfully prove the said charge. The Hon’ble Supreme Court through various cases has set the letters of the Code in motion to allow the judiciary of India to rightfully, justifiably and without ambiguity decide upon the charge u/s. 306 in each case at hand.
The Law established by the Supreme Court of India
It is the Hon’ble SC that has set the law of land on Section 306, IPC. Therefore, it is necessary to study the interpretation of the letters of the law by the Court, in order to understand the currently applicable law.
The Supreme Court has established that mens rea is an essential element to constitute abetment u/s. 107 of the Code. Mere actus reus leading to victim’s suicide by the accused does not attract a charge u/s. 306, IPC. Unable to handle pressure from work or personal feelings do not result in levying abetment of suicide charge on another individual.
With the intention to cause death by suicide, the elements of Section 107, IPC must be satisfied, i.e. the accused must have instigated, engaged or intentionally aided to cause such death. It has been established that in order to bring a charge u/s. 306, the investigation must prove an occurrence of a positive act by the accused, in accordance with the mental intent. There must exist a live nexus between the intent and the act.
Furthermore, this ‘positive act’ does not constitute of one incident/act. The SC has interpreted ‘instigation, engagement and incitement to abet suicide’ as the conduct of continuous positive acts with the agenda to leave no other option but to die by suicide with the victim.
In order to attract charge u/s. 306, IPC, with the above elements of mens rea and continued actus reus, it is necessary that the victim has died by suicide. A failed attempt of suicide too shall not result in a section 306 charge on the accused.
The Evidence Required in Courtroom
The most crucial evidence to death by suicide is the suicide note left by the victim. It is evidence and is admissible as a dying declaration of the victim under the Indian Evidence Act. However, the suicide note is not sole and ultimate evidence. The credibility, admissibility and degree of reliance on the said suicide note shall be determined by the court on case to case basis. The element to be proven is the intention and aid. If the suicide note is credible and establishes the same, it is a sufficient evidence to rely on and build the investigation upon.
However, not every death by suicide has a suicide note and with the lack of the same comes higher ambiguity w.r.t. anyone abetting the said death. It is a fact that mental intent and aid to suicide in majority cases does not have any direct evidence to lead the investigation. Lack of direct evidence leads to the possibility of significant gaps in the final case before the bench.
Thus, with no evidence to prove mens rea and the lack of substantial evidence on actus reus leads to turning to circumstantial evidences attract a given charge under the Code.
Inference can be drawn from these circumstantial evidences structured together by the investigating authorities. However, the test of accepting circumstantial evidence i.e. the lack of of any other possibility of events leading to the said death, is a big burden on the prosecution u/s. 306.
Analysis of the Prevailing Law
There is no ambiguity in the current standards to prove a charge u/s. 306. The SC has rightly established levels of elements, i.e. firstly, the proof of mental intent, secondly, the proof of actus reus, thirdly, the continuous positive actus reus to facilitate the mens rea and lastly, death by suicide. Given, the possible high ranged ambiguity to satisfy each level, the SC has rightly put additional burden on the prosecution to successfully bring about charge u/s. 306.
It is analyzed, that the extensive burden on the prosecution becomes necessary because a criminal trial is an unpleasant procedure for the accused to undertake, especially in India. Even if the accused is acquitted, the society has already formulated negative opinions about the accused. Thus, just because the investigating authorities have evidences of some value and are motivated to file a case of an un-natural death, does not mean that the ‘alleged accused’ must go through the said trial and be scarred for years to come. Hence, the SC has rightly enshrined the burden on the prosecution to bring about a case only when the established standards of evidences exist.
Therefore, it is concluded that to prove abetment to suicide u/s. 306, IPC, not only the letters of the Code but the precedents set by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India levy high burden upon the investigating authorities and the prosecution to successfully prove the said charge in the courtroom. The SC has already established that to hold an accused guilty u/s. 306, the court requires admissible and substantial evidence, without any ambiguity, even if the case is based on circumstantial evidences and subsequent inferences.
 Chitresh Kumar Chopra v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, (2009) 16 SCC 605, p. 15-24.
 Madan Mohan Singh v. State of Gujarat, (2010) 8 SCC 628.
 Gangula Mohan Reddy v. State of Andhra Pradesh, (2010) 1 SCC 750.
 State of West Bengal v. Indrajit Kundu, (2019) 10 SCC 188.
 Gurcharan Singh v. State of Punjab, (2017) 1 SCC 433.
 State of West Bengal v. Indrajit Kundu, (2019) 10 SCC 188.
 Sharad Bhirdi Chand Sarda v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1984 SC 1622.
 Roop Kishore Madan v. Govt. of NCT of Delhi, 2001 Cri.L.J. 1219.