Jiah Khan Case: Breaking Up With Your Partner Is Abetment To Suicide?

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The question now being asked in the Jiah Khan suicide case is: Is abetment to suicide equal to murder, and can a partner be indicted for breaking up with their loved one?
The question now being asked in the Jiah Khan suicide case is: Is abetment to suicide equal to murder, and can a partner be indicted for breaking up with their loved one?

MUMBAI: The Jiah Khan suicide case has, understandably and justifiably, thrown up many questions. From the discovery of an alleged six-page suicide note, to allegations flying back and forth, the case has gotten even more convoluted over time. Jiah Khan’s boyfriend Sooraj Pancholi has been arrested, and will be kept in police custody until 27 June, 2013.

Sooraj, son of actors Aditya Pancholi and Zarina Wahab, has been arrested for abetment to suicide in the Jiah Khan case. The 21 year-old Bollywood aspirant has applied for bail, and the application is likely to come up for hearing today.

The question now being asked is: Can a partner be indicted for abetment to suicide by breaking up with their loved one?

First up, let us clarify a few things:

What is abetment to suicide?

Abetment of suicide is an offence under section 306 of the IPC, one that requires rigorous proof of actual instigation by an abettor. It is punishable with a maximum 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.

The SC has laid down that: “Abetment involves a mental process of instigating a person or intentionally aiding a person in doing of anything. Without a positive act on the part of the accused to instigate or aid in committing suicide, conviction cannot be sustained.”

Simply put: abetment means that a person knowingly has instigated a person/ goaded them into committing suicide. Suicide itself is a punishable offence under Indian law (under Section 309 of the IPC), and an attempt to commit suicide, as well as abetment to suicide are punishable by law.

Now for the question: Is Sooraj Pancholi guilty of abetment to suicide?

Certain things need to be considered to understand whether or not Jiah Khan’s boyfriend can be tried and incarcerated for abetment to suicide. First of all, Sooraj Pancholi, in a relationship with the troubled actress, was aware of her fragile mental state. In a previous report, it was revealed that he had suggested to Jiah’s mother Rabiya Khan that she should undergo psychiatric counselling (READ STORY HERE). Secondly, it is widely known that Jiah Khan had attempted suicide, many months ago, and that Sooraj was aware of this. He definitely knew he was dealing with someone who was mercurial, and perhaps ought to have been more careful when trying to break things off with her.

The alleged suicide note, which the police are currently investigating, had been written over time (sources say Jiah did not write the letter all in one go, the night of her demise). The question now arises whether Sooraj had prior knowledge of this letter. If he had, he ought to have tried to talk things over with Jiah, to calm her down. Again- who’s to say he didn’t do so? For all we know, the bouquet he sent to Jiah that fateful night was to pacify her, and dissuade her from taking such a drastic step.

Today, everyone has had their share of rocky relationships. Many a time, couples end up fighting, verbally and physically abusing one another. Though physical abuse is definitely a serious matter, and one that needs to be looked into with utmost sensitivity, the question that is the need of the hour is: Can any kind of turmoil in a relationship be considered abetment to suicide, in such extreme cases?

The SC has, in a number of other judgments has clarified that to convict a person of abetment of suicide, there has to be a clear mens rea (a guilty mind or intention) to commit the offence. “It also requires an active act or direct act which led the deceased to commit suicide…,” the SC has held.

“The Supreme Court has consistently held that a word uttered in a fit of anger or emotion without intending to trigger a step as extreme as suicide can’t be said to be abetment to suicide. The SC has also consistently clarified that to prosecute a person for abetment to suicide, prosecution has to prove that the accused had the intention and knowledge that a specific act on his part could trigger suicidal tendency in the victim.”

The key takeaway from the above ruling: “intention and knowledge that an act could trigger suicidal tendency”- which in this case, we’re still murky about the details- whether Sooraj had knowledge about the letter/ prior knowledge that she would take a drastic step like suicide. Did he intend for this to happen, when he decided to distance himself from her?

In previous cases (such as actor Navin Nischol’s wife’s suicide case), a suicide note, even directly addressed to a partner, can be questioned in the court of law. Mental trauma and imbalance caused by one party a relationship, though morally questionable, cannot be considered illegal.

Just think of a scenario wherein a boyfriend/ girlfriend cheats on their partner. The aggrieved partner gets to know of this, and takes a drastic step by killing himself/ herself. Can such an act be termed as abetment to suicide on the part of the cheating lover?

More importantly: will couples mortally fear for their lives each time they break up with somebody, fearing that the dejected individual will end up committing suicide?

DISCLAIMER: We, in no way, support the alleged abuse and trauma Sooraj Pancholi may have put Jiah Khan through. We condemn any kind of abuse, physical and mental torture.