By JERRY PINTO
"Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code of 1860, a piece of legislation designed by the very Victorian Lord Macaulay, which punished attempts to commit suicide with a fine or up to a year in jail or both. Aiding or instigating suicide — an offense created later — was punishable by up to ten years in jail, including possibly hard labor.
"The rationale for criminalizing attempted suicide is the standard theological argument: Since only God could give you life, only God could take it away. The harsher penalty for abetment arose from something more distinctly Indian.
"India has strict laws against demanding a dowry of brides and their families. But even after marriage, women can be harassed by in-laws asking for money, gold or gifts, and some, driven to despair, kill themselves. Criminal abetment to suicide was often used to take such cases to court.
"But now, at the instigation of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the law stands to be repealed. This follows a 2008 recommendation by the Law Commission, which suggested that attempted suicide should be “regarded more as a manifestation of a diseased condition of mind deserving treatment and care rather than an offense to be visited with punishment.”
"The news comes none too soon, given that India has the world’s highest suicide rate for 15-to-29-year-olds and desperately needs to rethink its approach to mental health. (In many cities, electro-convulsive therapy remains a common treatment for depression and suicidal tendencies; in small villages, the standard cure might be exorcism.) Although the anti-suicide law has rarely been applied, its very existence — and the threat of prison — discouraged people who attempted or considered suicide from seeking help. The authorities would sometimes leverage it for political advantage or to extract money by blackmailing already traumatized families."