Gian Kaur vs. The State of Punjab

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Gian Kaur vs. The State of Punjab

Author(s):

K. P. Manish, BBA., LL.B., (Hons.), SASTRA Deemed to be University
K.G. Prithvi, BA., LL.B., (Hons.), SASTRA Deemed to be University


In Supreme Court of India
1996 AIR 946, 1996 SCC (2) 648
Petitioner

Gian Kaur
Respondent
The State of Punjab

Date of Judgement
21 March, 1996

Bench
J.S. Verma, G.N. Ray, N.P. Singh, Faizan Uddin, and G.T. Nanavati JJ.

 

Brief facts & inferences:

In the instant case, Gian Kaur and her husband Harbans Singh, being the appellants had committed the offence of abetment to suicide of their daughter-in-law, Kulwant Kaur. For their action, the Trial Court convicted them both under Section 306 of The Indian Penal Code. Henceforth, they were sentenced to Rigorous imprisonment for a term of six years each and were liable to pay the fine amount of Rs. 2,000/-, or, in default of paying the specified fine amount, further Rigorous Imprisonment for nine months would be enforced. Furthermore, the appellants made an appeal at the High Court, who reiterated the Lower Court’s decision making the conviction of the appellants right. However, the sentence of Gian Kaur alone has been reduced from six years to Rigorous Imprisonment for three years. Through the Special Leave Petition, the Appellants have approached the Supreme Court against their conviction sentence under Section 306 of IPC.

Issues Raised:

  • Whether Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is constitutionally valid?
  • Whether Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 violates Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution?

Contentions Raised:

Petitioners Contention:

The Petitioners contended that the Lower Court’s judgment is erroneous in nature. They strongly alleged that there was no abetment for attempt to suicide by Kulwant Kaur. The appellant had approached the High Court wanting to get rid of the said allegation. Their contention was that Section 306 of IPC must be held constitutionally invalid with reference to the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India[1], which declared Section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 as unconstitutional as it is violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. It was held in P. Rathinam case that `right to die’ falls within the ambit of Article 21 of the Constitution, and any person assisting the enforcement of the `right to die’ is merely assisting the enforcement of  Article 21, which is the fundamental right under Article 21 and it cannot be penal. Hence, it was contended by the Petitioners that Section 306 of IPC, which makes that act punishable, therefore, is violative of Article 21. One of the counsels who appeared for the petitioners contended that Section 309 of IPC is unconstitutional since it is violative of Article 14 of the Constitution on the grounds that the provision is discriminative, arbitrary, barbaric and monstrous.

Respondents Contention:

The Respondents being the state, wanted the decision of the Trial Court and the High Court to be upheld by the Apex Court. They strongly contended that Section 306 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860 which talks about the abetment of attempt to suicide is an independent provision, hence it does not rely on Section 309 of the same act. Moreover, Section 306 is constitutionally valid and does not violate Article 21 of the Constitution. The Respondents also wanted the ruling of the case P. Rathinam v. Union of India to be struck down since Section 309 of IPC is also constitutionally valid. They contended that the ‘right to life’ is inherently inconsistent with the ‘right to die’ and the right to die cannot fall within the ambit of Article 21. The Respondents contended that there is no merit in the contention-based on Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

Judgment:

The five-judge Constitutional Bench had held that “Right to Life” under Article 21 of Indian Constitution does not include the “Right to Die” or “right to be killed”. The Apex Court asserts that ‘Right to life” also includes the right to a dignified life till one reaches the point of death, including a dignified procedure of death, thus it includes the right of a dying man to also die with dignity when his life is ebbing out.

The Court ensured that the “Right to die” with dignity at the end of an individual’s life must not be misunderstood with the “Right to die” in an unnatural manner of death. It was mentioned that accelerating the process of natural death of an individual which by god’s creation are imminent in nature, under such circumstances permitting termination of life is not available for interpretation under Article 21 to therein include the right to curtail an individual’s natural span of life. Henceforth, the contention of the Appellants on making Section 309 of The Indian Penal Code to be unconstitutional, since they violated Article 21 of the Constitution cannot be accepted. Moreover, the Court, rejected the petitioner’s contention of challenging the constitutional validity of Section 309 based on Article 14.

The second issue of whether Section 306 of The Indian Penal Code is constitutional or not was also answered by the Hon’ble Court. The Court affirmed that assisted attempt to commit suicide and assisted suicide are made punishable for cogent reasons in the interest of society. The objective of such a provision is to prevent the inherent danger in the absence of such a penal provision. Abetment of suicide is a distinct offence that is found enacted even in the law of countries where attempted suicide is not made punishable. Section 306 enacts a distinct offence that can survive independent of Section 309 of IPC. As of which, the Court makes it clear that the arguments made to support the plea for not punishing the person who attempts to commit suicide do not avail for the benefit of another person assisting in the commission of suicide or in the attempt of it. Thus, the decision made in the ruling of P. Rathinam v. Union of India was struck down, making Section 306 and Section 309 of Indian Penal Code constitutionally valid and making the accused punishable for abetment of suicide.

Ratio Decidendi:

The Court stated that attempt to commit suicide and any person who abets the attempt to commission of suicide does not violate Article 14 or Article 21 of the Constitution. The Court had overruled the previous decision in the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India, thereby making Section 306 and Section 309 of Indian Penal Code constitutionally valid.

Rationale in arriving at the Judgment:

It was contended by the Petitioners that on certain judgments which widen the ambit of Article 21, the term life’ does not mean ‘mere animal existence’ but right to live with human dignity’ embracing the quality of life. Thus, it was interpreted as if, a person having the “Right to live” he/she would correspondingly include right not to live, i.e., right to die or to terminate one’s life. Under ancient India, a Brahmana having got rid of his body either by drowning or starving, practiced by the great sages, is exalted in the world of Brahmana as free from sorrow and fear. The Court reiterates that life is defined as the right to live with human dignity, which means the dead shall also happen in a dignified procedure. Henceforth, a person leading a life with human dignity shall not end his life in an undignified manner, by killing himself. The Court intended to ensure that no person ends their life as a right to die, and thus it happens to be a landmark judgment for “Right to die” is not constitutionally valid.  

Statutes & provisions of law involved

Statute:

  • The Indian Penal Code, 1860
  • Constitution of India

Provisions Involved:

  • Section 306 and Section 309 of Indian Penal Code,1860
  • Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution.

Conclusion:

Prior to this case, the Court gave a misconception that the fundamental right to life infers an individual’s right to end his life, thus including the right to die. But fortunately, there was not a sudden cultural outbreak, as there was an existing cultural practice of passive killing in rural areas of South India. With the help of this instant case, the Apex Court makes it clear that the “Right to Life” denotes the right to lead a life with dignity. The word “Life” in Article 21 does not refer to the mere existence on earth, but it mainly emphasizes the right to live with human dignity and personal liberty. Hence, it must be construed as such. Any facet of life that makes it dignified may be read into Article 21, but not that which extinguishes it. It may be argued that death is a natural process and there should be no laws to prevent it. However, taking one’s life on his own is prima facie, not a natural process. Moreover, it can be construed that India being a welfare state is more concentrated and ambitious to protect the lives of its citizens. Making a statute that promotes dead of its citizens is against the framework of the nation. Thus, whatever the decision of the judiciary, it is for the welfare of the nation and to the orderly living of its citizens. Henceforth, the instant case signifies the importance of an individual’s life and emphasis more about leading a life in a dignified manner, and most importantly validating Section 309 of The Indian Penal Code.

Edited by Chiranjeeb Prateek Mohanty

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje 

Reference

[1] 1994 AIR 1844, 1994 SCC (3) 394