Sitting on hunger strike is not a suicide attempt, says HC

Will sitting on a hunger strike for days together to press certain demands and refusing to cooperate with the authorities in the provision of medical treatment amount to a criminal offence under Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) of the Indian Penal Code? The Madras High Court has answered this question of law with a categorical no.

Quashing one such case booked against a Sri Lankan refugee, Justice N. Anand Venkatesh said: “The mere fact that the petitioner has protested by sitting on hunger strike will not attract the offence under Section 309 IPC. Even if the materials available on record are taken as it is, it does not constitute an offence under Section 309 IPC.”

Advocate P. Pugalenthi brought it to the notice of the court that petitioner P. Chandrakumar was lodged in a special refugee camp functioning on the Poonnamalee sub jail campus in 2013. Unlike those lodged in regular refugee campus, the inmates of special camps were denied the freedom of movement and not allowed to step out. Therefore, the petitioner sat on a hunger strike for nearly 10 days between August 15 and August 24, 2013.

He was also accused of not cooperating with the local Tahsildar when attempts were made to provide medical treatment to him when his health condition worsened due to the protest having been continued for nearly 10 days.

Acting on the basis of a complaint lodged by a local policeman in-charge of the security in the special camp, a First Information Report (FIR) was registered against the petitioner under Section 309 of the IPC and a chargesheet was also laid before a judicial magistrate, who took cognisance in 2016, forcing the petitioner to move the High Court.

The petitioner’s counsel primarily raised two grounds. One was that the act of going on a hunger strike or sitting on a fast would not amount to an offence under Section 309 of IPC. The second ground was that the magistrate ought not to have taken cognisance after three years since such an act was barred by the period of limitation.

It was brought to the notice of the court that Section 468 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states that courts should take cognisance of offences within six months if they were punishable with fine alone, within a year if the offence was punishable with prison term not exceeding one year and within three years if the offence was punishable with prison term exceeding one year but not exceeding three years.

In the case of Section 309 of IPC, punishable with simple imprisonment which could extend up to one year or with fine or with both, the Magistrate ought to have taken cognisance within one year, the counsel argued and the judge concurred with him. “Taking cognizance of the final report by the court below is barred by law and stands vitiated,” the judge held.

(Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available on the State’s health helpline 104 and Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline 044-24640050.)

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