Last week, aspiring actor Suraj Pancholi was arrested and charged with abetting the suicide of actor Jiah Khan. In her suicide note, Khan had accused Pancholi of mentally and physically abusing her. Days after this incident, a Delhi resident was arrested on similar charges after his wife killed both their children and committed suicide. In this case, the woman's family said her husband had been harassing her. Veenu Sandhu speaks with Supreme Court senior advocate KTS Tulsi on what legally qualifies as 'abetment to suicide' and whether a person should be held responsible for the death of someone who has chosen to end his or her life.
What is abetment to suicide?
To instigate, to goad somebody into committing suicide, to urge, provoke or incite. Unless there is evidence of intentional aiding, abetting or instigating and there are elements to suggest that the person encouraged, goaded et cetera, the abetment to any offence cannot be made out. It would not amount to an abetment merely if a relationship is not working and one of the two persons is depressed or frustrated on account of that or is of a hypersensitive nature and ends his or her life. There are persons who can handle defeat and frustration. There are others who cannot. And there are those who can handle it most of the time but sometimes crack up. Every suicide does not mean that with whosoever you have a grievance, that person is responsible for abetment.
Would these two cases - Jiah Khan's and the Delhi incident - qualify as 'abetment to suicide'?
The Jiah Khan case is a classic example of complete misuse of this section of the law by the police. The law doesn't say you cannot get out of a relationship. Even in a marriage, a husband and wife will have arguments. Now, if solely on account of an argument, a person commits suicide, that implies that no two persons will be able to live together. Suicide is never the product of a sane mind. It is not the handiwork of a sound person. It is hypersensitivity, frustration, depression or disappointment. Sometimes it is a strong impulse.
What are the options that those accused of abetment have?
He/she can only apply for bail and hope that it's granted. In India, process is punishment. And the fact is that the rich and famous suffer much more because of the media hype that is created around the incident. It is because of the hype that Kanda (former Haryana minister Gopal Goyal Kanda, accused of allegedly abetting the suicide of former air hostess Geetika Sharma) is in jail for more than a year. In such cases, investigators are under pressure, bail is denied and the person is perceived as guilty even before being proven so. The court is supposed to rectify the situation, but it also comes under pressure. The problem is not the law, the problem is the prejudice that is created. There are hundreds of farmers who have committed suicide because they are not able to pay back the loan. Now is the bank involved guilty of abetment to suicide? The bank doesn't even know that this is what the farmer's circumstances are, whether he is feigning poverty or is genuinely in difficulty. Normally, the intention of suicide is kept a secret. Then how it is possible to say that the person was intentionally goaded or instigated to commit suicide?
So how would one prove that there is a case of 'abetment to suicide'?
There is a case of abetment if in the suicide note, the victim writes clearly that a person has intentionally aided or encouraged the act. But then even the suicide note is not the handiwork of a sane mind.
Then very little would qualify as abetment to suicide.
That's true; every suicide cannot be read as 'abetment'. There has to be intentional goading. Section 108 of the IPC defines abetment: A person abets an offence, who abets either the commission of an offence, or the commission of an act which would be an offence, if committed by a person capable by law of committing an offence with the same intention or knowledge as that of the abettor. So the abettor must have the same intention or knowledge. And here there is neither intention or knowledge.
Then what is the logic of charging people with 'abetment to suicide'?
A dowry death, murder or suicide because of dowry, takes place every 77 minutes, a girl is molested every 15 minutes and a rape takes place every 29 minutes. In such a society, a girl can be pushed to commit suicide. So we cannot do away with punishment for abetment to suicide.
How many cases of abetment to suicide end in conviction?
Very few - maybe 1 or 2 per cent. So it's minimal considering that suicide is perhaps committed by 0.002 per cent of the population.