CASE COMMENTARY ON THE CASE: Maruti Sripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra

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By V. ARJUN from Sree Narayana Law College, Poothotta, Kerala

INTRODUCTION

We know that COVID-19 has caused a lot of problems for people all around the world. The people are suffering and their rights are getting violated. Some people are using this period to satisfy their selfish motives. This results in the suffering of the people who turn out to be victims of these atrocities, especially women, children and homeless people. We always hear news about child marriages and women being raped at this time. The world is trying hard to survive and the people of lowest value take this time granted to feed their demons. Along with that the economy is drowning. People have lost their jobs and they find it difficult to find a job to feed their families. The people working as technicians and those who are operating cameras in local channels had to find other jobs such as painting jobs to satisfy their hungry stomach. People get frustrated when they get to see the news about the COVID-19 affected patients. Our focus always goes into the physical problems faced by the people. But it is actually the top part of the iceberg floating in the Atlantic Ocean. There are much more problems which we haven’t addressed or which we still haven’t given much importance. Those are the tensions and frustrations faced by the people. The mental issues faced by people are increasing now and the suicide cases and suicide attempts are increasing in our society. This highlights the negativity that has grown inside the minds of today’s youth. This can be changed only by giving proper attention to those people or rather, to  those victims of extreme stress. The Section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 explains about the attempt to commit suicide. According to this section attempt to commit suicide is punishable offence and shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term of one year. In the case Maruti Sripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra[1], the section 309 was struck down by the court as it was said to violate Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India. Court took the same stand in the case P. Rathinam v. Union of India. But in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, the honorable Supreme Court of India reversed its judgement and held that section 309 of IPC is constitutionally valid and Article 21 cannot be interpreted as to contain a meaning “right to die”.[2] But the case Maruti Sripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra had a huge impact and its vibration travelled to other countries such as Bangladesh too. From the on the mental treatment of the people who attempted to commit suicide was given much  importance than the punitive measures  taken against them for what they have done,  which would be the cruelest thing to do against them and the punishment for suicide attempt does not prove logic and kindness. This case actually opened up a mew path which no one has ever rode before. As Karl Marx said, the thing that doesn’t change is change itself. Everything needs to change. The society is dynamic. Only then it will be friendly to the people living there.

Equivalent citations

1987 (1) BomCR 499, (1986) 88 BOMLR 589

Date of Judgment

25 September, 1986.

Bench

 Justice B K Patil, Justice P Sawant.

Facts

The petitioner was a police constable. He met with an accident in the year 1981 and suffered many injuries which affected his mental health more than his physical health. Later he was diagnosed with giddiness or fright and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia affects the thinking ability of the patient and later he was given shock treatment. As the income to the family stunted, Dubals wife tried for some other job and was later promised with a hawker’s license.[3] But due to hindrances in bureaucracy and its affairs she never got the license. The Minister of State Government provided the constable with a letter addressed to the Municipal Commissioner as to fasten up his procedures for the hawker’s license in his wife’s name. So, he had to give the letter personally to the Municipal Commissioner. But the security at that place was rude and the petitioner tried to march in. Tired of all the frustrating happenings in his life he poured kerosene on himself and tried to light fire. Fortunately, he was stopped by the police and was charged with section 309 for attempting to commit suicide and was arrested. He was released later . According to the petitioner, he actually doesn’t remember what actually happened. The attempt to  light fire is still a vague dream to him. He had said that it took place as his wife and children were away  and he had nothing else  to think about. His mental condition couldn’t provide him any legal protection and petitioner was prosecuted under section 309.[4]

Issues

Whether section 309 of IPC is unconstitutional or whether it violates the Constitutional provisions such as Articles 12, 19 and 21?

Whether the petitioner is liable under section 309 of IPC?

Whether the punishments given section 309 of IPC are barbaric and primitive?[5]

 Contention

 Petitioner’s argument

  1. Attempt to commit suicide shouldn’t be consider as an offence as it acts against the core of the Articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
  2. The punishments given to a person who has attempted to commit suicide is barbaric as no person who has got a healthy, presence of mind would ever commit suicide.
  3. Therefore, it violates Article 14 of the Indian Constitution as the punishments given to such a cause are unethical.[6]

Respondent’s Argument

  1. The petitioner did not actually get the meaning of the Articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution. That is, the Articles provided or reflected a different meaning.
  2. Right to Equality was not binding on classification of offenders.
  3. The provisions are to stop the state from depriving the Right of Life of the individuals.

Judgement

The court held that the section 309 of IPC is ultra vires to the Constitution of India. Also, the section 309 IPC is violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21. Court said that dealing with the facts of this case is unnecessary as prosecution against the petitioner is unjust. Therefore, the pending prosecution against the petitioner was quashed and all prosecutions under the section 309 of IPC pending in any of the Courts in the state also had to be quashed. The rule was made absolute.  The  Law Commission of India’s 42nd Report published in June, 1971 focused on the deletion of section 309 of IPC. Also, a Bill to delete the section 309 of IPC was introduced in Rajya Sabha in 1979, but was lapsed on the dissolution of Lok Sabha at that time.

Reasoning

   The thought of people ending their lives themselves is not a new concept. Those concepts can be found from the ancient period itself. But even though it is not a new incident or new topic, it is one the most unnatural things which is natural. This topic has been discussed in scriptures of Hinduism as well as Jainism. Attempt to commit suicide has a legal character in countries like France, United Kingdom, Russia and Japan. In many states of United States of America, the attempt to commit suicide is not considered a crime. But we need to understand that, the major purpose of such provisions is to put an end to humans ending their lives themselves. In this case Maruti Sripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra, the court declared the section 309 of IPC to be violative of the Articles 14, 19 and 21.[7]

Dissenting Opinions

In the case Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court of India on 21 March 1996 held that, the Section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 does not violate the Article 14 or Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This made the Section 309 of IPC Constitutionally valid. We may think that death is a natural process, but taking one’s life can never be considered a natural process according to the Honorable Court. In Article 21, it denotes the Right to lead a decent life with dignity and personal liberty. Any aspect of life that contains an essence of dignity must read with the Article 21 of the Constitution of India and not those aspects taking it from that concept or extinguishing it.

Article 19 and Article 21 must be read in relation to each other. Article 19 is not an absolute right. Similarly, Article 21 also contains both positive and negative aspects within it. Therefore, right to life also includes the right to die. But that doesn’t mean the judiciary supports the suicide or attempt to commit suicide.

Rule of Law

The court declared the Section 309 of IPC to be violative of the Articles 14,19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.

Article 14-Equality before law.

Article 19-protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech,etc

Article 21-Protection of life and liberty.

The rule was made absolute and was declared ultra-vires.

 Conclusion

 In this case, Maruti Sripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra, the court held a progressive judgement by declaring the section 309 of Indian Penal Code as violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India.[8] We need to understand or atleast try to understand cop up with mental condition of the people trying to commit suicide. They are not doing so because they want to gain something. The feeling of ending one’s own life arises from the thought that he or she has lost everything in their life and that too takes place because of the negative thinking for a few moments. A person who has gained his consciousness back after going through a tough time in his or her life would never try to commit suicide as they have got their mind under their control. From this it is clear that suicide attempt takes place because of the unclarity or clouding in the thinking process which turns out to be negative. A person who has attempted to commit suicide must be given proper attention to channelize his way back to normal life. Throwing that person into prison would only make his condition worse. That person’s mental condition should be treated and he must be given clarity about the future opportunities in his life and the attachment met him or her with his or her family must be increased. As in this case, the 39-year-old police constable said that he couldn’t recall the moment he tried to light himself after pouring kerosene. That is, he didn’t think about his wife and children. If he had that thought in his mind, he would never had done such an act and his mental condition acted like oil to the fire. Those people must be given proper care instead of locking them inside prison cells. From the Colonial period , that is, from the time the British made the laws, the penal provision had not undergone much of a change in India. Not only in India, also in other countries such as Bangladesh. Therefore, the judgement in this case would vibrate to other countries too. Also, the judgement has made it clear that giving punishments to a person who has tried to commit suicide is not only barbaric but also against the justice and it has called out for amending the backdated provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Treating section 309 of IPC as violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 does not mean that the judiciary promotes suicide or  gives license to the people to end their lives. People shouldn’t try to end their lives because death is not a solution to problems. Thought of killing oneself is actually a disease and that disease must be treated. Instead this section 309 of IPC tends to give punishments to those people. According to this case, there is only a thin line which separates the right from the wrong. That is, people should be given treatment and not punishment. If a person commits suicide, it affects his family after him. It is different from other offences as it doesn’t affect the society in a way as other offences affects the society. Hence, giving punishments for attempt to commit suicide is against the humanity. This case has opened up the eyes of the jurists and has laid hands on a progressive as well not much spoken topic. Let this case and more importantly its judgement open up new doors in the field of law. After this case too there had been many changes which are both positive and negative to this case, but the barbaric thoughts and punishments arising from them must be made to have an evolution for the betterment of the lives of the people in the society.

Reference

Indian Kanoon-https://indiankanoon.org/doc/490515/


[1] 1987 Cri LJ 743

[2] Equivalent Citation:1996 AIR 946, 1996 SC(2)648

[3] Raminder Singh,right to die by one’s own hand remains intact in some parts of India, India Today(February 17,2014,13:25),https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/nation/story/19861031-right-to-die-by-ones-own-hand-remains-intact-in-some-parts-of-india-801391-1986-10-31

[4] Justice Swanat,Equivalent citations: 1987 (1) BomCR 499, (1986) 88 BOMLR 589,https://indiankanoon.org/doc/490515/

[5]  Justice Swanat,Equivalent citations: 1987 (1) BomCR 499, (1986) 88 BOMLR 589,https://indiankanoon.org/doc/490515/

[6] Madhrur Rahman Mahin, Case Review on Maruti Sripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra, Nils(september 25,2020), http://nilsbangladesh.org/maruti-shripati-dubal-vs-state-of-maharashtra/

[7] Hardik Baid, Case comment on Maruti Sripati Dubal v. State of Maharashtra, Indian Legal Solution(July,2020),https://www.google.com/amp/s/indianlegalsolution.com/maruti-shripati-dubai-v-state-of-maharashtra/amp/

[8]  Justice Swanat,Equivalent citations: 1987 (1) BomCR 499, (1986) 88 BOMLR 589,https://indiankanoon.org/doc/490515/

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