• Legis Scriptor

Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab

Authored By- Aishwarya Bhat NS

Keywords- Article 21 and Article 14, Section 309, Right to life, Right to die.

Name of the Case - Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab.

Equivalent Citation - 1996 AIR 946.

Name of the Parties-

Petitioner to the case: Gian Kaur.

Respondent to the case: State of Punjab.

Date of Judgement- 21/03/1996.

Judges- JS Verma (J), GN Ray (J), NP Singh (J), Faizanuddin (J), Nanavati G.T (J)

Court- The Supreme Court of India.


The present article on the Gian Kaur’s case expresses how human need makes them forget the value of other’s life, thereby violating Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. This article covers in detail explanation of the case Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, along with ratio decidendi of the judgment of the case.


Article 21 is the most widely and frequently interpreted provision of the Indian Constitution. Its scope includes various rights that are incorporated by way of judicial interpretation. The Right to die was questioned under article 21 of Indian constitution.[i]

Background of the Case

The Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab case dealt with the issue of suicide. This was a landmark decision wherein the Supreme court overruled its previous decision in the case of P. Rathinam v. Union of India[1]. The previous decision recognised that the Right to life includes the right to die. In the Gian Kaur’s case, the Supreme Court held that the right to die could not be considered as a part of the right to life conferred under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In order to die one should have to do an act.[ii]

Facts of the case

The petitioner Gian Kaur and her husband Harbans Singh, had committed the offence of abetment to suicide of their daughter-in-law, Kulwant Kaur. For such an offence, the trial court had convicted both of them under section 306 of IPC, 1860. Hence, they both were sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for a term of 7years. And, they were liable to pay the fine amount of Rs. 2,000, or if there was a default in paying the specified fine amount, further rigorous imprisonment for 9 months would be imposed. Further, the appellants made an appeal to the High Court, which upheld the lower Court’s decision making the conviction of the appellants right. However, the sentence of Gian Kaur alone was reduced from 7 years to 3 years of rigorous imprisonment. The sentence of her husband was maintained as it is, without any changes. After the conviction was upheld by the High Court, the appellants filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court of India challenging their conviction. The constitutionality of section 306 IPC, 1860 was challenged under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution by the appellants to the case.[iii]


a) Whether section 306 of IPC, 1860 is constitutionally valid?

b) Whether section 309 of IPC, 1860 is violative of article 14 and article 21 of the Indian constitution?

c) Whether “Right to Life” under article 21 of the constitution of India includes the “Right to die”?


The Supreme Court held that section 309 of IPC, 1860 is not violative of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution as it did not include the right to die within its scope. Further, it was held that it did not violate Article 14 of the Indian Constitution on the grounds of being either barbaric or arbitrary in nature. The court held that section 306 of IPC, 1860 to be valid on the ground of right to die was not within the purview of Article 21 of the Indian constitution and therefore, section 309 being constitutional, there was no reason for section 306 to be unconstitutional. Abetment and attempt to commit suicide are separate offences and hence section 306 will exist even without section 309 of IPC, 1860. The Court also held that the right to life doesn’t include the right to die. However, it does not include the loss of life by unnatural means, suicide being an unnatural way to die, and not a dignified way.

Ratio Decidendi:

The Court stated that attempt to commit suicide or if any person abets the attempt to commission of suicide does not violate article 14 or article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Court overruled the previous decision in Rathinam’s case thereby making section 306 and section 309 of IPC, 1860 constitutionally valid.[iv]

Concepts highlighted in this case

The constitutional validity of the right to die first came up as a question in the case of State of Maharashtra v Maruti Sripati Dubal[2] the Court held that the right to die under Article 21 of the Constitution includes the right to die and the High Court struck down in section 309 of IPC, declaring it to be unconstitutional. Later, the Supreme Court in P. Rathiram’s case upheld the decision of the High Court. This case overruled the previous decision of the court. The Court held that abetment to suicide and attempt to suicide are separate offences, which is a very important point. Nobody has a right to induce someone to take his life, and it violates the fundamental right of another person. Thus, abetment to suicide remains a heinous crime irrespective of the constitutionality of section 309 of IPC, 1860.


The constitutionality of section 309 of IPC, 1860 makes “attempt to suicide” an offence was upheld in this case. In the case of Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab, the Apex court makes it clear that the “Right to Life” represents the right to lead a life with dignity. The word “Life” in Article 21 of the Indian constitution does not signify the mere existence on earth, but it mainly concentrates on the right to live with human dignity and personal liberty. Hence, in this case, the importance is given to an individual’s life by emphasizing more on leading a life in a dignified manner.[v]

[1] (1994) 3 SCC 394 [2] (1987) 1 BomCR 499 References: [i] [ii]

[iii] [iv] [v]