Smt. Gian Kaur v. The State Of Punjab on 21 March, 1996 : Case Comment.

Author: Riya Kumar, DME Noida.

On: Smt. Gian Kaur v. The State Of Punjab on 21 March 1996

Equivalent citations: 1996 AIR 946, 1996 SCC (2) 648


J.S. Verma(J), G.N. Ray (J), N.P. Singh (J), Faizanuddin (J) and

G.T. Nanavati (J)


Author’s Note

A way of life in modern society, in which people compete with each other for power and money, it is time to slow down and look around people who are in despair because of not being able to keep up with the rat race and end up quitting their lives.

The case discussed in this article indicates how human’s greed makes them forget the value of others’ lives.


Constitutional Provisions involved:


  1. Article 21 of the Constitution of India (COI) which deals with ‘Right to Life and Personal Liberty’

States that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

*This right has been held to be the heart of the Constitution, the most organic and progressive provision in our living constitution, the foundation of our laws.

*Article 21 can only be claimed when a person is deprived of his “life” or “personal liberty” by the “State” as defined in Article 12. Violation of the right by private individuals is not within the preview of Article 21.

  1. Section 306 of The Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with “Abetment of suicide”

States that “If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”

* 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.

  1. 3. Section 309 of The Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with “Attempt to commit suicide.”

States that “Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall he punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year 1 [or with fine, or with both].”

*There have been appeals to remove the section from different sources.


Facts of the case

Gian Kaur and her husband Harbans Singh had been charged for abetting suicide of their daughter-in-law Kulwant Singh. They had fearlessly poured kerosene on her and they had a clear intention to see her dead. This was challenged by the Trial Court. On appeal, it came before the High Court.

The conviction of the appellants has been assailed, on the ground that Section 306, IPC is unconstitutional. The first argument advanced to challenge the constitutional validity of Section 306, IPC rests on the decision in P. Rathinam v. Union of India and Anr., 1994) SCC 394, by a Bench of two learned Judges of this Court wherein Section 309, IPC has been held to be unconstitutional as violative of Article 21 of’ the Constitution.



The appellants Gian Kaur and her husband Harban Singh were convicted by the Trial Court under Section 306, Indian Penal Code, 1860 (for short “IPC”) and each sentenced to six years R.I. and fine of Rs. 2,000, or, in default, further R.I for nine months, for abetting the commission of suicide by Kulwant Kaur.

On appeal to the High Court, the conviction of both has been maintained but the sentence of Gian Kaur alone has been reduced to R.I. for three years. These appeals by special leave are against their conviction and sentence under Section 306, IPC.

It was held that “right to life” under Article 21 does not include “right to die” or “right to be killed”. The “right to die” is inherently inconsistent with the “right to life” as is “death with life”. “Right to life” is a natural right embodied in Article 21 but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life and, incompatible and inconsistent with the concept of “right to life”.

Accordingly, the court ruled that Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (1860), which punishes a person convicted of attempting to commit suicide, is not violative of Articles 14 and 21 and hence, is not unconstitutional. In effect, the court overruled its earlier verdict delivered in the P. Rathinam v. Union of India case (1994).

  • Controversy

In the case of Gian Kaur v. State Of Punjab the major controversy was between article 21 and of the Indian Constitution and section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.


Case Analysis

The decision of punishing Gian Kaur and her husband to three years’ imprisonment and fine of Rs. 2000 each was totally in accordance to justice as abetting to commit suicide is a heinous crime in itself. Due to selfish intentions to acquire dowry, they both wanted their son to re-marry with someone else so they burnt their daughter-in-law mercilessly.

But according to me declaring that section 309 of Indian Penal Code is not violative of article 14 and 21 is not correct.


Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem” -Phil Donahue.


About 800,000 people die by suicide worldwide every year. People who commit suicide must be suffering from despair and pain regarding issues with their personal, professional or social life. My views differ with section 309 of the Indian Penal Code which punishes a person who commits or does any act towards the commission of suicide.

Instead of penalizing a person who tried to commit suicide, he or she should be provided with facilities to improve mental health. His/her reason to commit suicide must be taken into consideration so that cases related to suicide especially amongst youth can be reduced to a nullity. In our society, people should be made aware of how to recognize people around them who suddenly start being isolated, not socializing and differ in their usual behavior. Rather than alienating and ignoring them, members of the society should sympathize with them and help them by listening to their grievances and give them advice which is not connected to any societal prejudice.

Government plays a pivotal role in this fight, by stating a clear commitment to suicide prevention. Maybe by ensuring collaboration between multiple stakeholders and sectors—public and private. Rather than punishing people who try to commit suicide and make them guiltier of being alive, the government can follow up them with mental health care facilities by putting social workers and psychiatrists at work.

Media has a powerful role to shape the minds of the people in our society. It can help to educate the public about suicide and risk factors and where to seek help.

Government and media can together contribute to public welfare by releasing public service announcements that raise awareness, identifying and treating mental and substance use disorders as early as possible, and ensuring those vulnerable to suicide receive the care they need before it is too late.

Mental health and alcohol policies should be integrated into overall health-care services, and governments should ensure sufficient funding to improve these services.

The Supreme Court of India recently upheld that Right to Live with Dignity also includes Right to Die with Dignity which means that every citizen has liberty to live a life according to themselves that should be accordance to public policy and also a person who is terminally ill or in a persistent vegetative state can make a “choice” to prematurely extinguish his life, therefore, states the Right to Die with Dignity. This will allow for the withdrawal of life-support systems for the terminally ill, passive euthanasia which is a condition where there is a withdrawal of medical treatment with the deliberate intention to hasten the death of a terminally-ill patient.

According to me, this is a decision correctly taken because a citizen should live according to himself/herself and also should die naturally or with the consent and not forcefully due to wrong intentions of others.


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