By Anuradha Gandhi and Isha Sharma
The right to live with dignity is a fundamental aspect of human rights. It emphasizes that every individual deserves to be treated with respect and have their basic needs met to maintain a quality of life that upholds their self-worth and worthiness as a human being. It is closely linked to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which encompasses the fundamental right to life and personal liberty. The concept of living with dignity also underscores the importance of preventing discrimination, ensuring social justice and promoting a society where each person’s inherent value is recognized and upheld.
These liberal values of the Constitution of India which are often misunderstood and forgotten are plainly encapsulated in a recent judgment passed by the Karnataka High Court highlighting that: “everyone of them are human beings and all are worthy of equality”
In the referred judgment, the court has refused to quash criminal proceedings initiated against three employees of a Company in a case involving suicide of one of their colleagues, belonging to LGBT community.
Facts of the Case:
The deceased joined the Company in the year 2022 and was offered the position of Manager, Visual Merchandising at the Company. He accepted the employment in September 2022. In the light of organizational structure of functioning, the deceased was directed to report to Petitioner No.1. Petitioner No. 2 was in-charge of Human Resources of the team and Petitioner No. 3 was his teammate. This implies that all the three petitioners were in direct connection with the deceased in his day-to-day functioning in the organisation.
The first concern was raised by the deceased around the month of February 2023 against the Petitioner No. 1, alleging that he was asked to micromanage the work which affected his efficiency. It was further complained that he was subjected to unsavory jokes and was repeatedly questioned on his sexuality. As a result thereof, the deceased submitted his resignation on February 28, 2023 which was accepted on March 16, 2023. It appears that the resignation submitted by the deceased was later withdrawn and he sought to re-enter the Company. On his re-entry, the deceased was not accommodated in the place in which he was earlier working. However, the deceased decline to attend the scheduled interview, therefore, his employment remained in limbo.
Certain events happened between the date of resignation of the deceased and his re-entry. Consequent on his resignation, the deceased made a complaint to the Internal Complaints Committee constituted under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, urging certain actions on the part of the petitioners including hurling of abuses and castigation comments. In his complaint, the deceased had narrated the instances as how he has been subjected to sarcastic comments, remarks and questions on his sexuality since he belonged to LGBT community, which had not only hurt his sentiments but had also tarnished his image and reputation in and out of the organisation.
The deceased also alleged that being from a scheduled caste background, he had to face caste based discrimination, thereby causing mental harassment which compelled him to register a complaint against the petitioners for offences punishable under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The deceased had also approached the Assistant Commissioner of Police complaining that he was harassed by the petitioners but no crime was registered.
Due to constant harassment meted out to him, the deceased committed suicide on June 03, 2023. On commission of suicide, the complaint was registered by his father before the jurisdictional police against the petitioners on June 04, 2023 for offences punishable under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
It was barely three days after registration of the FIR that the present petition was filed by the petitioners praying for quashing the complaint so registered and the investigation is still in progress.
The Hon’ble Mr. Justice M. Nagaprasanna remarked that:
“It is not a case where there is no prima facie material or the allegations are made in thin air. Cases which involve death of a person and the accused are guilty of abetment to suicide of the said victim will have to be considered owing to the facts of each case. There cannot be any particular parameter; yardstick; or a theorem for interference, particularly, in cases of abetment to suicide. If the accused by their alleged acts have played an active role in tarnishing or destroying the self-esteem of a hypersensitive person or even their self-respect, would definitely become guilty of commission of abetment to suicide; if the accused have kept on irritating or annoying the deceased by words or deeds, provoking them and driving them to the wall, would also become circumstances that would be ingredients of abetment, all prima facie. Delicate analysis of human behaviour that shrouds each case will have to be analyzed, on a case to case basis. The human mind could be affected and would react in myriad ways, one such way could be ending of one’s life. Therefore, all these would be in the realm of disputed questions of fact and would require investigation in the least.”
Emphasis was further drawn to the judgment of the Apex Court in the case of Mahendra K.C. Vs. State of Karnataka, wherein it was held that:
“the High Court while exercising its power under Section 482 CrPC to quash the FIR instituted against the second respondent-accused should have applied the following two tests: (i) whether the allegations made in the complaint, prima facie constitute an offence; and (ii) whether the allegations are so improbable that a prudent man would not arrive at the conclusion that there is sufficient ground to proceed with the complaint. Before proceeding further, it is imperative to briefly discuss the law on the abetment of suicide to determine if a prima facie case under Section 306 IPC has been made out against the respondent-accused.”
Section 306 IPC provides for punishment of the abetment of suicide:
“If any person commits suicide, whoever abets the commission of such suicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.”
Recognizing that the deceased was the one belonging to LGBT community and their sensitivity to being ostracized pervades in their psyche, the court opined that such people must be treated with all love and affection.
The Court further stated that “Every individual is different and different individual personality would manifest as a variation in the behaviour of people and has held that quashing of the proceedings, at the stage of crime, is not a course of action that can be undertaken while exercising its jurisdiction under Section 482 of the Cr.P.C.
In the light of the judgment of the Apex Court and the facts narrated hereinabove, the court ascertained no warrant of interference with the registration of crime and hence, refused to quash the proceedings against the petitioners for the offences punishable under Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
“If every citizen would treat such citizens with all love and care, as is done to a normal human, precious lives would not be lost. Unfortunately, the precious life of a youth is lost in the case at hand, all for the prima facie allegations of pointing at sexual orientation of the deceased. Therefore, it is for every citizen to bear this is mind while interacting with sensitive people. It is necessary that every one of us introspect on this issue, after all, everyone of them are human beings and all are worthy of equality.”
– Hon’ble Mr. Justice M. Nagaprasanna