This is a thought that I have always had, and wanted to share. However, a news item that I read today, which said social activist and Iron lady of Assam Irom Sharmila will be flown to Delhi today to appear in court in connection with a case charged under IPC 309 (attempt to commit suicide) for a fast she undertook, is the immediate trigger. Interestingly, this is in the same India which celebrates Mahatma Gandhi as father of the nation. The same Mahatma Gandhi, who had undertaken similar fasts on multiple occasions and effectively employed this age-old tool of self-purification as an effective political weapon. At this moment, I do not wish to go into the details of merit of Ms Sharmila’s cause, nor comment on the effectiveness of fasting as a means of protest against governments that don’t care whether citizens live or die. The point I wish to make here, is that the right to end one’s life is as fundamental as the right to live itself, and that IPC 309 is in violation of the right of citizens to be in control of their own lives to the extent they don’t infringe on the similar right of others.
There are several other laws today, which similarly deny people choices in their life which should ideally be of concern to nobody else (excepting their close friends and relatives). One example is the law which mandates that two-wheeler riders should wear helmets. If I ride a two-wheeler without helmet and die in an accident, the insurance company is justified in refusing to pay anything IF they have a clause in their policy agreement to that effect. But why should the government care? I see it as interfering with my personal liberty. It’s like there being a law that forbids me from eating junk food because it’s not food for my health, or from walking in the sun without an umbrella lest it should harm the complexion of my skin (like they claim in some stupid face cream advertisements). Luckily there’s no rule (yet) that penalizes batsmen who don’t wear helmet against pace bowlers.
One argument that the Government might raise in defence of such laws is that our life is not just our own – we have duties towards several others and to the society and nation at large. It is the duty of a son to look after his parents, that of a husband to take care of his wife, and so on. I completely agree. We have a duty and, often, by ending our life prematurely or by being careless with it we would be failing in our duty. But does the government do anything about those who are technically alive, but live as a burden to their family and a menace to the society? Those alcoholics who ruin their family fortune and usher their wife and children into poverty and misery, and those uncaring sons who dump their parents in homes for the elderly – are they being punished for failing in their duty? If not, why should somebody who feels overwhelmed by the pressures of life or is mentally unstable be punished for attempting to end his suffering?
For all living things, life is their most valuable possession. If somebody goes to the extent of wanting to give up their life, it is either for a cause that is so close to their heart or because of mental torment that is beyond explanation in words. What they deserve is support and consideration, and not punishment for failing to live up to the challenges of life. If our laws guarantee us the right to live, and to make of our lives whatever we wish, it should also give us the right to end it if we so wish. It is only then, that I would consider the right to life and freedom as complete.