Suicide attempts are against the law in India, and last night a Delhi man was brought into court because he had tried to kill himself by dousing himself in kerosene. It was ruled, however, that what the man had done does not qualify as a suicide attempt, and he was released.
The kerosene-pouring incident and the initial suicide attempt trial took place 16 years ago, reports Hindustan Times, but Delhi’s court system is so backed up that the verdict itself was not actually issued until now. He claimed innocence during the trial, and now the defendant gets to walk out of court a free man – although now he has to live with the knowledge that he failed not only at his suicide attempt, but at attempting his suicide attempt.
“The act of accused pouring the kerosene oil on himself and taking out a matchstick can at best be termed as a preparation to commit suicide, which is not punishable under the Indian Penal Code,” said the court.
Anuj Agarwal, the Metropolitan Magistrate (Indian equivalent of a judge) presiding over the case, elaborated on why the attempt was not really an attempt.
“An attempt is the direct movement towards commission of crime after the preparation have been made. However, in my considered view, the act of accused in the instant case was merely a preparation and nothing more than that.”
Apparently, uncapping a can of kerosene and pouring it over yourself does not constitute a direct movement towards suicide in the eyes of the law.
And not only did he douse himself, but the man had actually pulled out a matchstick before being thwarted, reports NDTV, which begs the question of what exactly would be considered a suicide attempt if that is not one. Does the match need to be lit? Does the man need to be partially burned for it to be considered an attempt?
According to the English definition of “attempt,” at least, the man should certainly have been found guilty.
In order to qualify as an attempt at a criminal act, the definition reads, “there must be an intent to commit the crime, an overt act beyond mere preparation, and an apparent ability to complete the crime.”
Intent to commit the crime? Check. One can assume the man did not pour the kerosene on himself for hygienic purposes.
Overt act beyond preparation? Check. He took out a matchstick.
Apparent ability to complete the crime? Check. Assuming there was a matchbox to go with the matchstick he had just pulled out, the man was more than capable of lighting the match and touching it to the flammable liquid covering his body, thereby committing suicide and breaking the law.
It is possible that the court’s decision to let the man go free was due to the massively overcrowded Indian prison system. Although the incarceration rate in India is actually much lower than that in the United States (33 people per 100,000 population compared to the U.S.’s 753 people per 100,000), the country’s gargantuan population (1.25 billion) has led to the overflow in jails. In total, the country is equipped to handle about 355,000 inmates, but there are close to 420,000 prisoners, says One India.
It is also possible that the court took pity on the man and did not think it right to punish him now for a victimless “crime” attempt committed in the year 2000. Anyway, just the fact that the defendant is still alive and has not felt it necessary to attempt suicide again since the initial incident shows he is “rehabilitated.”
[Photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images]