Karnataka High Court calls person committing suicide a ‘weakling’! Don’t diminish the gravity of mental health issues, says SC 

Supreme Court: In a case where the Single Judge of Karnataka High Court had termed person committing suicide a ‘weakling’ and also made observations on how the behavior of the deceased before he committed suicide was not that of a person who is depressed and suffering from mental health issues, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud* and BV Nagarathna, JJ has held that such observations describing the manner in which a depressed person ought to have behaved deeply diminishes the gravity of mental health issues and that,

“The mental health of a person cannot be compressed into a one size fits all approach.”

Factual Background

Deceased, who was working as a driver for the accused-second respondent, was found dead on 6 December 2016, with a 12 pages long suicide note next to him. The suicide note was uploaded by the deceased on his Facebook account through his mobile.

The suicide note has referred to the illegal activities of the accused in amassing wealth in excess of Rs. 100 crores, converting black money into white and transferring funds from the bank account of the deceased through his mobile to the accounts of the relatives of the accused. The complaint alleged that the accused had threatened the deceased with death and harassed him as a result of which the deceased, having suffered mental stress, committed suicide by consuming poison. Both the second respondent and his “house driver” were specifically named as responsible for this death.

Details highlighted in the note:

  • The transfer of funds in several lakhs of rupees by the accused to his relatives by using the cell phone and bank account of the deceased;
  • The conversion of approximately Rs. 100 crores into currency notes of Rs. 2,000/-, Rs. 100/- and Rs. 50/-;
  • The knowledge of the deceased in regard to the transactions of the accused as a result of which he had been threatened to be killed “by rowdies”;
  • A raid conducted against the accused by the establishment of the Lokayukta of Karnataka while he was posted in the Housing Board;
  • The involvement of judges to whom presents or gifts were made;
  • The payment of salary to the deceased having been stopped at the behest of the accused;
  • The accused having used the deceased for changing currency worth over Rs. 75 crores; and
  • The deceased being in knowledge of “all the information”, and when a shortage of an amount of Rs. 8 lakh was found, the deceased had been directed to make good the deficiency, failing which he was threatened to be killed by rowdies.

Analysis

The Court noticed that the High Court has evidently travelled far beyond the limits of its inherent power under Section 482 CrPC since instead of determining whether on a perusal of the complaint, a prima facie case is made out, it has analysed the sufficiency of the evidence with reference to the suicide note.

While adjudicating on an application under Section 482 CrPC, the High Court in the present case travelled far away from the parameters for the exercise of the jurisdiction. Essentially, the task before the High Court was to determine whether the allegations made in the first information report or the complaint, even if they are taken at their face value and accepted in their entirety did or did not prima facie constitute an offence or make out a case against the accused. Instead of applying this settled principle, the High Court has proceeded to analyze from its own perspective the veracity of the allegations.

“The entire judgment of the High Court consists of a litany of surmises and conjectures and such an exercise is beyond the domain of proceeding under section 482 of the CrPC. The High Court has proceeded to scrutinize what has been disclosed during the investigation, ignoring that the investigation had been stayed by an interim order of the High Court, during the pendency of the proceedings under section 482.”

The High Court observed that a prima facie case for the commission of offence under Section 306 of the IPC is not made out since:

  1. the suicide note does not describe the specific threats;
  2. details of the alleged demand of Rs. 8 lacs from the deceased by the respondent-accused are not set out in the suicide note; and
  3. no material to corroborate the allegations detailed in the suicide note has been unearthed by the investigating agency.

The High Court observed that since the deceased took considerable time to write a twelve page suicide note, “it would have been but natural for the author to set out the details”.

Not only this but the High Court had commented upon and made strong observations on the suicide note itself, diminishing the importance of mental health.

The Single Judge had observed:

37. It is not the case of the deceased that the accused had deprived him of his wealth or have committed acts that have shattered his hopes in life or separated him from his family and friends.

[..]

    1. [..] It is not the case of the prosecution that the deceased was running away from or escaping the petitioner or his henchmen, but as is his habit, to visit his parents and to spend time with his friends. If the deceased had really felt threatened, he would have definitely approached the police. It is not that he was naive or not worldly-wise. If his employment with the petitioner was true, then the Police Commissionerate was only a stone’s throw away. It is not that the deceased was a weakling. The deceased by profession, is a driver. A profession where, accidents causing loss of life and limb are a daily occurrence and every driver is aware that he could be involved in an accident at any time.

[..]

    1. His act of attending a relatives marriage in a different town and his interacting with friends and relatives are all actions of a normal person and not of a person under severe duress. The contention that this criminal case would jeopardize his career progression also cannot be brushed aside. It is also not forthcoming as to how he sourced the poison.”

The Court held that the above mentioned observations describing the manner in which a depressed person ought to have behaved deeply diminishes the gravity of mental health issues.

“Behavioural scientists have initiated the discourse on the heterogeneity of every individual and have challenged the traditional notion of ‘all humans behave alike’. Individual personality differences manifest as a variation in the behavior of people. Therefore, how an individual copes up with a threat- both physical and emotional, expressing (or refraining to express) love, loss, sorrow and happiness, varies greatly in view of the multi-faceted nature of the human mind and emotions.”

[Mahendra KC v. State of Karnataka, 2021 SCC OnLine SC 1021, decided on 29.10.2021]


Counsels

For Complainant: Mahesh Thakur

For State of Karnataka: V.N. Raghupathy

For respondent-accused: Sharan Thakur


*Judgment by: Justice Dr. DY Chandrachud

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