P. Rathinam v. Union of India

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 26/04/1994

COURT: Supreme Court of India

JUDGES:    Hansaria B.L. and Sahai R.M

REFERENCE: 1994 AIR 1844

PARTIES

Petitioner: P.Rathinam

Respondent: Union of India

SUBJECT: The judgment revolves around the question of whether right to die is a part of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution?

FACTS: Due to the existence of same question of law the Court combined two petitions to decide the constitutional validity of section 309 IPC. The petition was preferred by the petitioner when one Mr. Nagbhushan was charged under section 309 IPC.

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

The Indian Constitution:

  • Article 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law.
  • Article 32: Remedies for enforcement of rights conferred by Part III
  • The right to move the Supreme Court by appropriate proceedings for the enforcement of the rights conferred by this Part is guaranteed
  • The Supreme Court shall have power to issue directions or orders or writs, including writs in the nature of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto and certiorari, whichever may be appropriate, for the enforcement of any of the rights conferred by Part III The Indian Penal Code:
  • Section 309: Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall he punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year 1[or with fine, or with both].
ISSUES:

1. Whether section 309 of the Indian Penal Code is constitutionally valid?

ANALYSIS OF THE JUDGEMENT:

The petitioner contended that,

  • Every right has a positive as well as a negative aspect in it. Right to freedom of speech also includes right not to speak or remain silent similarly right to live also includes right to die.
  • Mental diseases and imbalances, unbearable physical ailments, affliction by socially- dreaded diseases, decrepit physical condition disabling the person from taking normal care of his body and performing the normal chores, the loss of all senses or of desire for the pleasures of any of the senses, extremely cruel or unbearable conditions of life making it painful to live are the main reasons why people commit suicide.
  • The main essence of a crime being “mens rea” is absent in case of suicide which itself makes the act ineligible to be treated as an offence.
  • Further criminalising such an act will only add more misery to their lives

The respondent contended that, suicide is against public morality. Permitting such act is against the principles of sanctity of life. Article 21 includes only positive aspects of life and does not include a negative aspect within its scope.

Upon hearing the parties, the Court held section 309 IPC to be constitutionally invalid in order to humanise the penal laws in our Country. The Court further stated that, such provisions are cruel and irrational provision, and it may result in punishing a person again who has suffered agony and would be undergoing ignominy because of his failure to commit suicide. Suicide does not affect public morality or sanctity of life. It does not harm the society at large therefore the interference of the State in such matters affects the personal liberty of the individual under Article 21 and hence it stands unconstitutional.

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