Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shadow Boxing: The right to life ...

The action of killing oneself intentionally: "he committed suicide at the age of forty".

Nothing new, I'm sure. Almost every day the newspaper reports one self-discorporation, or the other. In fact, according to the internet nearly ten thousand indians attempt suicide annually. Nearly 300 per day, and the majority are in the prime of life - around 40 years old! Fortunately there is a strong deterrent against suicide in the form of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. This section enforces Article 21 of the Indian Constitution - "Protection of Life and personal liberty".

Historically suicide was deemed a crime in many cultures, and nations. The logic being that killing oneself was contrary to the laws established by God & Nature; some more references are available at

To paraphrase John Donne, "No man is an island" - which may be interpreted to mean that an individual is a part of the society that forms the civilisation of the period in which he lives. Suicide, when successful, leaves a society with a gap which may be difficult to fill; particularly when the individual happened to possess specialised knowledge. Understandably therefore, suicide, was deemed a crime against society & civilisation by the individual - and therefore punishable as such.Yet the sceptical mind wonders about the rationale historically put forth to justify opposition to this step.

Society is in a state of continuous flux. Towns and cities were few and far between perhaps until the industrial revolution. Prior to the industrial revolution most communities were relatively small, clustered in the vicinity of and administered by a liege lord.It is difficult to imagine a despotical medieval warlord being concerned about the welfare of the community around him to the extent of a fiat to deter suicide. In an agrarian society one could easily miss a peasant ; a feudal mindset would simply write-off the peasant. The same despotic feudal mindset would, perhaps, find it a little more difficult to write-off losses in the form of material assistance given to, and taxes owed by the same peasant. He would be in a sorry state if the entire community were to decide to discopororate! Hence the despot would probably also attempt to recoup losses caused by suicide through higher taxes and levy on the living. As a corollary the decree that made suicide illegal would punish even more clearly the individual who failed the attempt. To the simple souls that formed the majority of the rural community yet another obstacle to the so-called easy way out would be any edict that touted suicide as an irredeemable crime against God.

It is easy to imagine the law being applied in the Colonies ; after all the peasants in the colonies were in the worst state. The executive told them what to sow, the law told them what taxes were owed, and the law also held out varying degrees of punishment if the peasant were to be lax in his farming, or payment of his dues, as also in attempting to take the easy way out!

These thoughts came to mind after I watched 'Guzaarish' earlier this month; the topic is owed deeper thought than perhaps it gets.