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Explained: What is abetment of suicide, and how does the court determine if it took place?

The father of Sushant Singh Rajput has filed an FIR against actor Rhea Chakraborty and five others, for abetment of suicide. What is this crime, who is an abettor, and how does a court determine abetment?

Written by Apurva Vishwanath , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: August 4, 2020 11:44:00 am
sushant singh rajput, sushant singh rajput news, sushant singh rajput case, sushant singh rajput latest news, rhea chakraborty, rhea chakraborty sushant singh case Rajput, 34, was found dead in his Bandra apartment in Mumbai on June 14 and what the police claimed was a case of suicide. (Express photo)

The controversy surrounding the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput took a new turn as the actor’s father filed an FIR against actor Rhea Chakraborty and five others, for abetment of suicide. Following the FIR in Patna, Chakraborty moved the Supreme Court seeking to transfer the case to Mumbai where Rajput’s death occurred.

What is the crime of ‘abetment of suicide’?

The Indian Penal Code, 1860 makes abetment of suicide a punishable offence. Section 306 of the IPC prescribes either a jail term of up to ten years or a fine or both.

“If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

Generally, the fine is paid to the kin of the deceased.

The IPC also has a separate chapter on abetment and describes who is an abettor under Section 108. Abetment is defined as including instigating, engaging in a conspiracy or assisting in committing the offence.

How serious is the offence of abetment?

Abetment of suicide is a serious offence that is tried in a Sessions court and is cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.

A cognizable offence is one in which a police officer can make an arrest without a warrant from a court. A non-bailable offence means bail is granted to the accused at the discretion of the court, and not as a matter of right.

A non-compoundable offence is one in which the case cannot be withdrawn by the complainant even when the complainant and the accused have reached a compromise. The court cannot allow withdrawal of a case involving a non-compoundable offence, and every such complaint is necessarily followed by a trial where evidence is held against the accused.

Also read | Rhea Chakraborty: I believe I will get justice

So does that mean abetment of suicide is the same as murder?

No, it does not. The Supreme Court clarified this issue in 1997 in the case of ‘Sangarabonia Sreenu v State of Andhra Pradesh’.

Despite the intention of the accused to drive a person to commit suicide, abetment of suicide is not the same as murder. Although in both cases, causing the death of another person is a common factor, the two are distinct offences.

In the case of a murder, the final ‘act’ of causing the death of a person is committed by the accused which is not the case in abetment of suicide.

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How will a court determine if the accused has abetted the suicide?

There are two primary ingredients of the crime of abetment of suicide. First is a suicidal death. The second ingredient is the intention of the accused to abet such suicide.

Legally, whether a death is a suicide or not is a determination of a fact, which means evidence has to be evaluated to pronounce that death is a suicide. In common parlance, the word suicide is liberally attributed to every case of self-destruction, but suicide is never presumed. A determination of suicide is made when the deceased person is understood to have known the probable consequence of what the self-harm is about to do to the person and yet, does so intentionally.

Once such a determination is made, then the intention of the person accused of abetment of suicide is looked into.

The only exception to this is the abetment of the suicide of a woman married for seven years or less. Through an amendment in 1983 in the Code of Criminal Procedure, the law was changed to presume that the husband is guilty if his wife commits suicide within seven years of the marriage. The amendment was made to curb rising dowry deaths that were categorised as suicides.

Also read | Sushant probe: Mumbai vs Bihar Police as Patna SP is quarantined

How is the intention to drive a person to suicide determined by the court?

The intention is discerned from acts of the accused in proving any crime. Multiple rulings of the Supreme Court, including a 2002 ruling in the case of ‘Sanjay Singh v State of Madhya Pradesh’, have held that a comment or a statement uttered in haste, anger would not amount to abetment of suicide.

In a recent 2017 ruling, the apex court also said that instigation, involvement of the accused must be connected strongly and any remoteness in these features would be insufficient to charge the accused with the offence.

Suppose, Person A says “go, die” to Person B and B happens to hang herself to death subsequently, Person A cannot be charged with abetment to suicide. Firstly, A did not intend to instigate B to commit suicide and merely uttered the words in a fit of anger. In such a case, the court would look into Person A’s general behaviour towards B and determine the intention.

In the same case, if a husband and his family have subjected the wife to continuous physical abuse since the marriage and drove her to commit suicide, they can be held liable for the offence. Instigation has to have certain continuity, happen continuously over a reasonable period of time. The suicide must also be a direct consequence of the instigation and cannot be a mere coincidence or very remote to the committing of suicide.

Additionally, if the deceased person is found to be very sensitive compared to a reasonable person, the court has said that the charge of abetment to suicide would weaken.

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