Section 306 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!
The section requires that suicide must be committed as a result of the abetment and the deceased must have been abetted by the accused to commit suicide. Abetment may be caused by instigation, conspiracy or intentional aiding as provided by section 107 of the Code. Section 306, though serious, is not as serious as section 305 where the punishment prescribed is severer than under section 306. In State of Madhya Pradesh v. Matadeen, the victim and the accused stayed as wife and husband. They used to have quarrels.
The victim doused herself with kerosene. The accused did not dissuade her but handed her a match stick. She burnt herself to death. The Madhya Pradesh High Court held the accused guilty under section 306 of the Code. The Supreme Court in P. Rathinam v. Union of India has observed that it does not agree with the view of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Chenna Jagdeeswar v. State that if section 309 of the Indian Penal Code were to be held unconstitutional it is highly doubtful whether section 306 could survive, as self-killing is conceptually different from abetting others to kill themselves. They stand on different footing because in one case a person takes his own life and in the other a third person is abetted to take his life.
Torture of newly married women
In view of the sudden spurt in the deaths of newly married women this section along with the two newly added sections 304-B and 498-A have become quite prominent in recent years.
In Samir Samanta v. State a newly married woman was being harassed for outstanding items of dowry. The demands were met and the matter was settled. There was no evidence of any further demand for dowry or any kind of torture of the woman. The woman committed suicide within one and a half months after the demands were settled.
It was held that the conviction must be set aside and a composite sentence passed under sections 306 and 498-A should not have been passed under the facts and circumstances of the case. In State v. Vasant Shanker Mhasane a newly married woman was harassed, tortured and assaulted and was never appreciated, loved or allowed to be happy.
The continuous and incessant harassment drove her to commit suicide. She, however, absolved her husband and other in-laws in her dying declaration but the other evidence conclusively proved everything. It was held that while section 306 was not attracted in the case, guilt under section 498-A was established.
In Pawan Kumar v. State of Haryana, the bride was repeatedly taunted, maltreated and mentally tortured right from the next day of her marriage and there was quarrel between the husband and the wife only a day before her death. The Supreme Court held that these were the causes that led her to commit suicide.
The husband could not rebut the presumption as to dowry death under section 113-B, Evidence Act, 1872 and his conviction under section 304-B could not be interfered with, and that he was guilty under section 306 of the Code also.
Where the husband had been consistently quarrelling with his wife demanding money from her, and on the day of the incident when she was fed up with this she told him that it was worth dying than remaining alive under these circumstances, to which the husband retorted by saying that he would be relieved if she died that very day, and immediately thereafter she set herself on fire and died, it was held that the husband was guilty under this section.
But where the deceased, a newly married woman, did not eat anything for three or four days before committing suicide and the atmosphere in their home before the suicide was very tense and her husband and in-laws did not persuade her to eat, the section was held to be not attracted.
The burden of proving the case under this section continues to rest on the prosecution and the burden would be discharged where the dying declaration castigated the mother-in-law of the deceased to be continuously harassing, maltreating and taunting her for bringing insufficient dowry and there was clear corroborative evidence to that effect.
As to the question as to whether proof of cruelty by itself is sufficient to convict an accused under this section, there seems to be a difference of opinion. While the Delhi High Court holds the opinion that it does amount to an offence under this section, the Calcutta High Court says that it may not.
Where the accused husband had been constantly harassing, torturing and maltreating his wife for not meeting dowry demands as a result of which she was fed up and set herself and her three children on fire, it was held that she had been forced to take this step and the husband was guilty under this section.
In K. Prema S. Rao v. Yadla Srinivasa Rao, the accused husband forced his wife (deceased) to part with her land received by her in marriage as stridhan. For the said purpose he concealed her postal mail. The cruel conduct of the husband drove her to commit suicide. He was convicted under section 498-A for his act of cruelty towards her.
The Supreme Court held that on the same evidence he could be convicted for abetment of suicide under section 306 with the aid of section 221, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 and the presumption under section 113-A, Evidence Act could be raised against him. The fact that specific charge under section 306 was not framed against him would not preclude the Court from convicting him for the offence proved.
In Ramesh Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh when a wife committed suicide her husband was charged under section 306 of the Code for abetment of the same. The happenings on the date of incident noted by the deceased in her diary showed that she was ashamed of her faults and as such she was committing suicide. Her dying declaration corroborated the inference from what she had written in her diary.
The Supreme Court held that the accused could not be convicted under section 306. The Court further observed that merely because an accused has been held liable to be punished under section 498-A, it does not follow that on the same evidence he must also necessarily be held guilty of having abetted the suicide.
In Sanju V. State of Madhya Pradesh,’ the accused wife told the deceased husband ‘to go and die’. The Supreme Court held that this by itself would not constitute instigation. The fact that the deceased committed suicide after two days of the quarrel during which the said words were uttered by the accused would show that suicide was not the direct result of the quarrel.
The suicide note left by the deceased showed that he was in great stress and depression. The statement by his wife showed that he was a frustrated man and in the habit of drinking. It was held that the charge-sheet filed against the accused was liable to be quashed as the essential ingredients of abetment were totally absent.
In Dr. Mangleshwar Singh v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the deceased who stole money was admonished by the accused who also threatened to lodge police complaint. The deceased committed suicide due to the said incident. The Madhya Pradesh High Court held the accused not guilty of abetment to commit suicide.
In P. Sreenivasulu v. State of Andhra Pradesh, the Andhra Pradesh High Court held that dying declaration recorded by a magistrate showing the deceased wife committed suicide by pouring kerosene over herself and setting herself afire because of abuses of accused husband. Uttering of abuses will not amount to provocation to commit suicide and it does not constitute abetment and so no offence is made out under section 306.
In Harjit Singh v. State of Punjab, the wife died of poisoning within seven years of marriage. There was no evidence to show that she was subjected to cruelty or harassment by the appellant husband or his relatives for or in connection with any demand of dowry. The Supreme Court held that presumption arising under section 304-B, Indian Penal Code or section 113-B of Evidence Act could not be invoked against the appellants.
Further, in the absence of evidence showing that the deceased was subjected to cruelty within the meaning of section 498-A, Indian Penal Code, the appellant accused cannot be convicted under section 306 merely because he was not found guilty under section 304-B.
In Virendra Kumar v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the deceased was being taunted by the accused husband for not bringing adequate dowry and being of dark complexion. Evidence showed that he used to beat her. Major injuries were found on different parts of her body. The Supreme Court held his conviction under section 306 of the Code proper.
In Anand Mohan Sen v. State of West Bengal, a newly wedded girl died of poisoning within seven years of her marriage in her matrimonial home. From her letters it was proved that she was subjected to physical and mental cruelty by her husband and in-laws. Discord between the parties was proved. She was driven out of her matrimonial home many times and could come back there only after settlement with the intervention of the Panchayat.
The first appellant father-in-law and the second appellant husband had told the deceased “Can you not die by taking poison? Go out of the house.” The Supreme Court held that the presumption of section 113-A, Evidence Act was correctly raised and the conviction of the accused persons under sections 498-A and 306 of the Code was proper.
In Sohan Raj Sharma v. State of Haryana, the wife committed suicide after giving poison to her children. Her suicide note described her accused husband as a sexual pervert.
It was stated that the accused was impotent and was trying to defame her. She had clearly mentioned that she wanted to take his life. The Supreme Court held that his cruel or insulting behaviour cannot be taken to be an act of abetting suicide and thus his conviction was improper.
In Kishangiri Mangalgiri Goswami v. State of Gujarat, the accused was alleged to have tortured his wife for dowry leading to her suicide. He allegedly had written letters to his in-laws demanding money. The Supreme Court held that there was proof of mere cruelty which was not sufficient to convict him under section 306 and so in view of letters written by him he was convicted under section 498-A of the Code and section 3, Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961.
In Milind Bhagwanrao Godse v. State of Maharashtra, the deceased wife allegedly committed suicide because of cruelty by her appellant husband. The Supreme Court held that his defence that the deceased, a highly educated woman, was frustrated in life as she could not get all luxuries, of life was not tenable. Case of extreme mental cruelty was established. Letter written to her parents by the deceased showed sadistic pleasure was derived by her husband in perpetuating cruelty on her. Evidence on record also indicated extreme mental cruelty and harassment compelled the deceased to put an end to her life. Conviction under section 306 was held to be proper.
Taunting to commit suicide
In Prahlad Das Chela v. State of M.P, the applicant and deceased were in love with a married lady. They quarrelled over keeping her. Both the applicant and the lady taunted the deceased to commit suicide. Out of frustration and instigation the deceased committed suicide. The Madhya Pradesh High Court held that cognizance taken under Section 306 of the Code could not be faulted with.
Where a woman prepared to immolate herself along with the dead body of her husband and thereby become a ‘sati’, and the accused persons were present there and followed her to the pyre and stood by her, and her step-sons chanted ‘Ram, Ram’, and one of the accused persons later admitted that he had told the woman to chant ‘Ram, Ram’, and she would become a sati, it was held that the accused persons did actively connive and had, therefore, engaged themselves with the woman in a conspiracy and an act or illegal omission had taken place in pursuance of that conspiracy, and as such they were guilty of abetment by conspiracy to commit suicide under section 306 of the Code.
Similarly, where the widow of the deceased was walking in procession with others to the cremation ground with the intention of committing sati and slogan like ‘sati mala ki jai’ was being raised by the crowd and about one hundred to one hundred and fifty processionists surrounded the police with a view to make it impossible for them to prevent the widow from committing sati and she was consumed by the flames along with her husband’s dead body, it was held that all processionists intentionally aiding the widow in the act were guilty under this section and deterrent punishment of rigorous imprisonment for five years was awarded.
Where the accused persons did nothing to stop a widow who had declared her intention to commit sati, and in fact had actively associated with her by preparing the pyre and supplying her ghee which she poured over herself and the body of her husband, it was held that they were guilty under this section for abetting the widow to commit suicide and it was no defence to say that in view of the magical powers of the late husband they had believed that curse would fall upon them and so they were overawed and followed the orders of the widow.
Similarly, where a widow committed sati on the funeral pyre of her husband all those persons who had assisted her by making her toilet, holding her screen, taking her ornaments, cutting her nails and dyeing her feet etc. were held guilty under this section and their defence that they believed that the pyre would get lit automatically by miracle was of no consequence since the crime of abetment is quite different from the manner of lighting a pyre whether by self, or by others or by miracle.
After the recent incident of sati in Deorala in Rajasthan where a young eighteen years old widow allegedly committed sati on the pyre of her husband while some believe that she was made to sit on the pyre, public opinion against commission of sati has generated so much awareness that Rajasthan Sati Prevention Act, 1987 and a Central legislation, the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 were enacted.
The latter, inter alia, comprehensively defines sati, prohibits glorification of sati, punishes its abetment and prevents construction of temples etc. in the memory of a sati. This law along with section 306 of the Code and the recently enacted sections 304-B and 498-A of the Code will perhaps be able to control to a large extent this social degradation in India. England also has a law in the form of the Suicide Act, 1961 to take care of such matters.
Illicit relationship forcing wife to commit suicide
In Dammu Sreenu v. State of Andhra Pradesh the appellant, who had illicit relationship with the wife of the deceased, was allegedly responsible for abetting suicide of the deceased. The appellant had taken away the deceased’s wife at her instance from the house in presence of close relatives of the deceased.
There was proximity and close nexus between the conduct and behaviour of the appellant and the deceased’s wife with that of suicide of the deceased. It was on account of humiliation and insult due to the said conduct that the deceased committed suicide. The Supreme Court held the conviction of the accused under section 306 proper.
Asking for repayment of loan
In Vedprakash v. State of M. P. the accused persons intimidated and goaded the deceased for repayment of loan. The deceased committed suicide soon thereafter, it was held that this did not amount to abetment to commit suicide, and no case under Section 306/34 was made out. The fiction under Section 113-A, Indian Evidence Act, 1872 is limited to abatement by a husband or his relatives in commission of suicide by wife and cannot be applied to other cases of abetment of suicide.
Abetment of attempt to commit suicide
In Satvir Singh v. State of Punjab the Supreme Court held that there cannot be an offence under sections 306/116 because section 306 does not penalise abetment to mere attempt to commit suicide but renders a person who abets commission of suicide punishable for which condition precedent is suicide should necessarily have been committed.
Constitutionality of section 306
In Smt. Gyan Kaur v. State of Punjab the question of constitutionality of section 306 of the Code came up before the Supreme Court. Holding it constitutional the five member bench observed that abetment of attempt to commit suicide is outside the purview of section 306 and it is punishable only under section 309 read with section 107 of the Code.
In certain other jurisdictions even though attempt to commit suicide is not a penal offence yet the abettor is made punishable. The provision there provides for the punishment of abetment of suicide as well as abetment of attempt to commit suicide. Thus, even where the punishment for attempt to commit suicide is not considered desirable, the abetment is made a penal offence.
In other words, assisted suicide and assisted attempt to commit suicide are made punishable for cogent reasons in the interest of society. Such a provision is considered desirable to also prevent the danger inherent in the absence of such a penal provision. Committing suicide is no more a crime in England after the coming into existence of the Suicides Act, 1961, but help and abetment in suicide are punishable. Abetment of suicide or abetment of attempt to commit suicide is a crime in those countries also where attempt to commit suicide is not a crime.
In N. M. Sakhre v. Union of India” the Bombay High Court held that abetment of suicide under section 306 of the Code is an entirely independent provision and relates to a distinct offence; it is based on reasonable public policy to prevent other person’s involvement, instigation and/or aiding in terminating one’s life, and hence is not violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The offence under section 306 of the Code is cognizable, non-bailable and non- compoundable, and is triable by court of session.