Tuesday, April 16, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

The ‘would be’ abetment of suicide

How does a suicide note hold up in court when pressing charges of abetment?

Update : 03 Apr 2024, 07:07 AM

"They didn't let her live. She was a brave girl. Without getting justice, she chose the path of suicide …" -- a statement by Fairuz Sadaf Abantika's grieving mother after her suicide.

Jagannath University (JnU) law student Fairuz Sadaf Abantika took her own life at her home in Comilla's Bagichagaon on the night of March 15 after writing a Facebook post. In the post, she named assistant proctor Din Islam and law student Raihan Siddique Amman for her grievances, accusing both of harassing her emotionally and sexually. Amman and Din were both arrested on charges of abetment to suicide and sent to jail after remand. 

Who can be charged for abetting suicide?

When a person abets the suicide of another person, they commit a criminal offense. According to Section 306 of the Penal Code 1860, a person abetting the suicide of another person shall be punished with imprisonment up to 10 years and shall also be liable to a fine. Abetment of suicide is considered for any role in helping a person to decide on ending their own life. 

Examples can be the pressure one feels from the environment that encourages or provokes suicide, providing a means (eg weapon or medication) to commit suicide, or failing to intervene to save a life where one is required to do this. Provocation and brutal treatment like physical or verbal abuse, humiliation, persistent teasing, demanding money or a dowry from a married woman, threatening to expose private images or videos, etc, may all be included. Mohammad Asif Prisley was convicted to 10 years by a Dhaka Speedy Trial Tribunal on February 27, 2017, for encouraging his Rajshahi University alumna Wahida Sifat to take her own life in 2015.

The suicide of Abantika has raised doubts about the effectiveness of the JnU's anti-sexual harassment cell

In section 107 of the Penal Code 1860, abetment is defined as the conduct that instigates one to do commit suicide. In the case of Bachchan Lal v The State (1956), the High Court of Allahabad determined that a person needs to have mens rea (criminal intent) and some active suggestion or support to commission the offense to be called an abettor. As in other criminal cases, the burden of proof is upon the prosecution, and the prosecution needs to prove the active abetment beyond any reasonable doubt. The act of abetment in suicide requires that the prosecution prove not only an intention to commit a criminal act but also that there was direct and active participation in the prompting and instigation of the suicide. 

The Supreme Court has also said that harassment itself, in conjunction with the behaviour of the accused, does not amount to abetment of suicide under Section 306 of the Penal Code. In the case of State of Gujarat v Gautambhai Devkubhai Vala (2022), the Gujarat High Court ruled that the prosecution must fulfill the requirements under Section 107, which deals with instigation, to establish an offense under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. 

A note in court

In Fairuz Sadaf Abantika's case, her suicide note was posted on Facebook at around 10pm on March 15. In the post, Abantika said Raihan Siddique Amman and Din Islam “would be” responsible for her suicide. Now the question here arises: Just for their name to appear in a suicide note, can anyone be guilty of abetting suicide, or can a mere suicide note be admissible as a dying declaration for Abantika? In basic terms, suicide notes are written by someone who purportedly takes their own life and describes why they did it. 

Under Sections 306 and 107 of the Penal Code, 1860, they could be a crucial piece of evidence for absolution or for filing accusations against the accused for aiding and abetting the suicide. However, the Punjab-Haryana High Court decided in the case of Harbhajan Sandhu v State of Punjab and Anr (2022) that an individual is not guilty of aiding and abetting suicide only because their name appears in a suicide note. All of Section 306's requirements must be met. 


The nature of the legal system and the specifics of the case in question can have either of two outcomes: A suicide note may or may not be accepted as a final statement; on the other side, a dying statement, in principle, is made by a person who thinks that they will die soon. More often than not, this fact must be considered as such statements represent truth as people do not lie near death, which is why they are admissible as evidence in court. 

Nevertheless, whether the suicide note might qualify as a dying declaration is subjective to whether such a note is consistent with legal requirements that define a dying declaration in the specific jurisdiction. Things such as the state of mind of the author of the note, the subject of the note, and the circumstances when the note was written are all considered. In most cases, suicide notes do not meet the standards required for dying declarations.

On the other hand, the word "would be" is getting heavy on  JnU's teacher, Din Islam, and suspended student Raihan Siddique Amman day by day. In the face of the student movement, the university authorities were compelled to relieve Din Islam from the post of assistant proctor and suspend Raihan Siddique Amman to assuage the movement. 

Needing to prove intent and instigation

As abetment to suicide is a non-bailable charge, the court rejected both of their bail pleas, and they have been sent to jail. Now, there might be several years in trial, with the sword of possible conviction or a possible acquittal hanging over their head. If, in the end, they get acquitted, they will face several challenges that a layperson can’t imagine. Hence, the accused must have mens rea to instigate the deceased to commit suicide. 

The act of instigation must be of such intensity that it is intended to push the deceased to such a position under which she has no choice but to commit suicide. Such instigation must be close to the act of committing suicide and proved beyond any doubt in front of the court. 

Any reader might point me out as being more passionate for the accused. As a human being, I feel great grief for Abantika and her family, but also for the two accused and their families. Abantika needed help from the proper authorities. The assistant proctor wasn't that. This incident is to the discredit and misfortune of the university authorities and they need to be more vocal about their facilities. 

This incident is to the discredit and misfortune of the university authorities

On May 14, 2009, the High Court ordered, in response to a 2008 writ petition that all educational institutions and workplaces were to set up a five-person committee to fight sexual harassment -- focusing on women. The suicide of Abantika has raised serious doubts about the effectiveness of the JnU's anti-sexual harassment cell. 


Zarrin Tasnim Mouri is a freelance contributor and a student of law.

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