MY OPINION – Suicide threats are increasingly becoming instruments of extortion

Recently , eight missed calls from a close friend heading a million-dollar company took me by surprise.He had an issue at hand; his driver requested (read demanded) Rs 2 lakh as loan to overcome his financial problems. When my friend refused, he threatened to commit suicide along with his family members, citing harassment. The recent high profile suicide case fresh in his mind, he was al ready visualising a possible FIR and policemen knocking on his doors, besides the public humiliation he would have to endure. He was advised to report the matter to police, and not accede to such blackmail. He acted accordingly and nothing untoward happened.
Mental illness or depression is the largest cause of suicide. However, there’s an increasing tendency among relatives, friends and even the media to be presumptuous about harassment and compel vindictive police action on connected or even unconnected people.

Real instances of harassment and abetment to suicide cannot be denied all together. But, repeatedly the Supreme Court has clarified that without the element of intention, active partic ipation, aiding and instigation of such charges are not sustainable.

The word “harassment“ by itself is a very subjective term. Denial of promotion or transfer; initiating disciplinary action, reprimanding, warning or even scolding can be interpreted as harassment by the affected person. Where does one draw line between legitimate action and harassment? Instances of denial of a party ticket to fight an election, being raided by an enforcement agency, failing an examination or even being scolded by a teacher can be construed as harassment by the victim. Should the leader of the political party, enforcement agency or teacher be criminally prosecuted for such alleged harassment? A political leader allegedly humiliated by an adverse court judgment commits suicide. Can the judge be held responsible for abetment? Quarrels between couples could lead to suicides. Would the spouse be liable for abetment without conditions laid by the Supreme Court being fulfilled?
Our sympathy would always lie with the men, women and, now even children who resort to suicides for various reasons. Many such reasons could be attributed to their own inadequacies and mis-interpretations. Abetment to suicide and alleged harassment continue to be interpreted loosely through mob-lynching tendencies to settle personal and political scores.Initiating criminal action against peo ple who are named without any corroborative evidence is an extremely worrying trend.

One of the worst consequences of such knee-jerk reactions is that the threat of suicide has become a powerful tool for blackmail by unscrupulous people, and can demoralize even a well-intentioned administrative machinery. Many officials, averse to risk, may succumb to such unscrupulous subordinates, largely owing to fear of prosecution, should the threat eventualise in reality, howsoever remote the possibility. However, whereas ‘suicide’ is an act of a weak mind, `threat to commit suicide’ is an act of a shrewd mind. To concede to their illegitimate demands may indeed encourage many more to adopt a wicked course to attain what they need.

In an administrative set-up, there are multiple levels for grievance redressal through officials, administrative tribunals and finally courts. It is unlikely that that every such level is unfair, prejudiced and insensitive. A person, denied desired relief by every such institution, may be not justified in calling it harassment. Such threats of committing suicide need to be treated as criminal intimidation, rather than a genuine request. Subjecting administrative machinery to criminal prosecution in such instances is absolutely unfair and legally untenable. However, recent instances may not give many officials the confidence to combat such blackmail.


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