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Actor Tunisha Sharma Death: What is Abetment of Suicide & What Next in The Case?

Abetment of suicide is a criminal offence punishable with upto 10 years in prison, and in some cases more.

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Actor Tunisha Sharma's last rites were held on Tuesday, 27 December, just two days after a Vasai Court sent her former boyfriend Sheezan Khan to four days of police custody over allegations of abetment of suicide.

The actor's death on 24 December is being investigated as a suicide, Mumbai police said, with her former partner, Sheezan Khan as the primary suspect.

Police said that both Sheezan Khan and Tunisha Sharma's phones have been sent for a forensic analysis to identify something in their conversations that may have led to Tunisha's alleged suicide. The two actors played the lead roles in the SAB TV show ‘Ali Baba: Daastan-E-Kabul’.

What's likely to happen next? What evidence will the police need to prove abetment of suicide? And what constitutes 'abetment of suicide' under Indian law?

Actor Tunisha Sharma Death: What is Abetment of Suicide & What Next in The Case?

  1. 1. What is Abetment of Suicide?

    In the most literal sense of the word, abetment means to instigate or incite someone to act a certain way.

    Under Section 107 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a person 'abets a crime' if he or she:

    • Instigates any person to do that thing; or

    • Engages with one or more persons in any conspiracy to commit a crime; or

    • Intentionally aids, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of the crime.

    Further, the essential ingredients of abetment of suicide are:

    • Death of a person by suicide.

    • Instigation by the suspect, coupled with the intent to instigate the victim's suicide.

    Expand
  2. 2. How is Abetment of Suicide Different From Culpable Homicide or Murder?

    Culpable homicide and murder fall under Sections 299 and 300 of the IPC respectively. The primary difference between homicide and abetment to suicide is the commission of the act of causing bodily injury to the victim.

    In the case of abetment of suicide, the victim is incited into committing suicide by the suspect, while in the case of murder or culpable homicide, the suspect causes the bodily harm or injury that results in the death of the victim.

    In short, if someone ends their life by suicide, and if another person intentionally and directly instigated them to commit suicide, or engaged in conspiracy or other omissions to instigate their suicide they could be charged with abetment of suicide under the IPC.

    However, if a person intentionally and directly inflicts the bodily harm with the intent to cause a grievous injury that could ordinarily result in death, they could be charged with culpable homicide amounting to murder.

    Expand
  3. 3. What is the Punishment for Abetment of Suicide?

    Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provides punishment for abetment of suicide, as per which the accused can be punished with imprisonment for up to ten years, as well as a fine. It is also a non-bailable offence, which simply means that bail isn't a matter of right in these cases and the accused needs to file their bail application before a court.

    Under Section 305 IPC, the punishment for abetting the suicide of a child, an insane person, a person of unsound mind, or a person who is intoxicated, is life imprisonment, and in the rarest of rare cases, the death sentence.

    Expand
  4. 4. What's Essential for an Abetment of Suicide Conviction?

    To convict someone of abetment of suicide, the Supreme Court states, it must be proved that the accused had a clear intention to instigate the victim's suicide.

    In the case of Netai Dutta vs State Of West Bengal, the Supreme Court held that an employer who was accused of bad treatment in the suicide note of an employee who took their own life, cannot be held guilty of abetment of suicide, since there was no clear intention established to instigate the suicide.

    Further, the Court states in M. Mohan vs The State, that the accused must have taken some action to make the victim think they have no other option but suicide. The Court says,:

    “...in order to convict a person under Section 306 IPC, there has to be a clear mens rea to commit the offence."

    Mens rea means guilty intent, i.e., the intention to instigate someone to commit suicide in this case. Without this element of intent, guilt cannot be proven. Further in Kanchan Sharma v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Another, the Supreme Court stated that for abetment of suicide to be proven:

    “it requires an active act or direct act which led the deceased to commit suicide, seeing no option and that act must have been intended to push the deceased into such a position that he committed suicide.”
    Expand
  5. 5. What Happens Once An Arrest Has Been Made For Abetment of Suicide?

    "Once arrested, the investigation agency has to file the charge sheet in 90 days, otherwise the suspect can come out on default bail. This is to avoid curtailing people's rights for longer than 90 days," says Ahmad Ibrahim, a lawyer practicing criminal law in Delhi.

    According to senior lawyer Shrey Sharawat, who has worked on 60-70 abetment of suicide cases, "the prosecution needs to prove an active live link between the actions of the accused and the victim's death. If there's no active link between the two, there's no abetment."

    Further, he adds, once a trial for abetment of suicide begins, it could take anywhere from 7-8 years to conclude. "Once five years have passed, when the case enters the 'old cases' category, you can expect it to pick up pace. This is because once a case enters the 'old cases' category, they have to prioritize them," he says.

    "But, it's only after the five-year benchmark that the trial courts will start to take the cases seriously," Sharawat adds.

    Further, proving abetment of suicide with a simple formula isn't easy. As the Supreme Court observed in Chitresh Kumar Chopra v. State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi) “each person’s suicidability pattern is different from the other and each person has his own idea of self­-esteem and self-­respect.”

    The Court further observed that “it is impossible to lay down any straitjacket formula dealing with the cases of suicide and each case has to be decided on the basis of its own facts and circumstances.”

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What is Abetment of Suicide?

In the most literal sense of the word, abetment means to instigate or incite someone to act a certain way.

Under Section 107 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), a person 'abets a crime' if he or she:

  • Instigates any person to do that thing; or

  • Engages with one or more persons in any conspiracy to commit a crime; or

  • Intentionally aids, by any act or illegal omission, the doing of the crime.

Further, the essential ingredients of abetment of suicide are:

  • Death of a person by suicide.

  • Instigation by the suspect, coupled with the intent to instigate the victim's suicide.

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How is Abetment of Suicide Different From Culpable Homicide or Murder?

Culpable homicide and murder fall under Sections 299 and 300 of the IPC respectively. The primary difference between homicide and abetment to suicide is the commission of the act of causing bodily injury to the victim.

In the case of abetment of suicide, the victim is incited into committing suicide by the suspect, while in the case of murder or culpable homicide, the suspect causes the bodily harm or injury that results in the death of the victim.

In short, if someone ends their life by suicide, and if another person intentionally and directly instigated them to commit suicide, or engaged in conspiracy or other omissions to instigate their suicide they could be charged with abetment of suicide under the IPC.

However, if a person intentionally and directly inflicts the bodily harm with the intent to cause a grievous injury that could ordinarily result in death, they could be charged with culpable homicide amounting to murder.

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What is the Punishment for Abetment of Suicide?

Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provides punishment for abetment of suicide, as per which the accused can be punished with imprisonment for up to ten years, as well as a fine. It is also a non-bailable offence, which simply means that bail isn't a matter of right in these cases and the accused needs to file their bail application before a court.

Under Section 305 IPC, the punishment for abetting the suicide of a child, an insane person, a person of unsound mind, or a person who is intoxicated, is life imprisonment, and in the rarest of rare cases, the death sentence.

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What's Essential for an Abetment of Suicide Conviction?

To convict someone of abetment of suicide, the Supreme Court states, it must be proved that the accused had a clear intention to instigate the victim's suicide.

In the case of Netai Dutta vs State Of West Bengal, the Supreme Court held that an employer who was accused of bad treatment in the suicide note of an employee who took their own life, cannot be held guilty of abetment of suicide, since there was no clear intention established to instigate the suicide.

Further, the Court states in M. Mohan vs The State, that the accused must have taken some action to make the victim think they have no other option but suicide. The Court says,:

“...in order to convict a person under Section 306 IPC, there has to be a clear mens rea to commit the offence."

Mens rea means guilty intent, i.e., the intention to instigate someone to commit suicide in this case. Without this element of intent, guilt cannot be proven. Further in Kanchan Sharma v. State of Uttar Pradesh & Another, the Supreme Court stated that for abetment of suicide to be proven:

“it requires an active act or direct act which led the deceased to commit suicide, seeing no option and that act must have been intended to push the deceased into such a position that he committed suicide.”
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What Happens Once An Arrest Has Been Made For Abetment of Suicide?

"Once arrested, the investigation agency has to file the charge sheet in 90 days, otherwise the suspect can come out on default bail. This is to avoid curtailing people's rights for longer than 90 days," says Ahmad Ibrahim, a lawyer practicing criminal law in Delhi.

According to senior lawyer Shrey Sharawat, who has worked on 60-70 abetment of suicide cases, "the prosecution needs to prove an active live link between the actions of the accused and the victim's death. If there's no active link between the two, there's no abetment."

Further, he adds, once a trial for abetment of suicide begins, it could take anywhere from 7-8 years to conclude. "Once five years have passed, when the case enters the 'old cases' category, you can expect it to pick up pace. This is because once a case enters the 'old cases' category, they have to prioritize them," he says.

"But, it's only after the five-year benchmark that the trial courts will start to take the cases seriously," Sharawat adds.

Further, proving abetment of suicide with a simple formula isn't easy. As the Supreme Court observed in Chitresh Kumar Chopra v. State (Govt. of NCT of Delhi) “each person’s suicidability pattern is different from the other and each person has his own idea of self­-esteem and self-­respect.”

The Court further observed that “it is impossible to lay down any straitjacket formula dealing with the cases of suicide and each case has to be decided on the basis of its own facts and circumstances.”

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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