The Madhya Pradesh High Court held that certain Informal Social Controls, such as parental counselling, should not be misconstrued as abutment of suicide.

The Court allowed the Petition seeking to quash the FIR in a case where the Principal admonished a child for causing disturbance using firecrackers.

The Court quashed an FIR and consequential proceedings against the school's Principal and Teachers in a case under Sections 306 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) after student committed suicide.

The Bench of Justice Anand Pathak observed, “although all Informal Social Controls as discussed above coming out from different Sociological Theories, cannot be befitting in our social milieu but it is also to be seen that for betterment of children, some Informal Social Controls are necessary. Here, calling parents for counseling was a mechanism which could have given lesson to the erring students and calling parents cannot be inferred as abetment”.

Advocate Harshit Sharma appeared for the Petitioners, Deputy Advocate General Veerendra Singh Pal appeared for the State and Advocate Arshad Ali appeared for the Respondent.

The petitioner, under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, sought relief, specifically requesting the quashing of the Charge Sheet linked to an FIR. The charges pertained to Sections 306 and 34 of the IPC. The petitioners, comprising the Principal, Vice-Principal, and a Teacher at Vivekanand School, Tekanpur, contested both the FIR registration and subsequent trial proceedings.

The prosecution's case, outlined in the FIR, involved allegations against Mahendra Kushwah, a Class 12th student, for creating a disturbance with firecrackers in the school toilet. The school's disciplinary action, including admonishment by the Principal (petitioner No.1) and communication with parents by petitioner No.2, preceded Mahendra Kushwah's reported suicide.

The Court framed the following issue: “Whether the alleged act of scolding and reprimand of a Student by a Teacher would be an Attempt of Course Correction or would Constitute an Offence”.

The Court noted historical practices where corporal punishment was commonly viewed as the primary method of course correction, notably in traditional school settings such as Vedic Gurukuls and Jesuit-induced Convent Schools. However, societal norms evolved, and contemporary methods, excluding corporal punishment, are now employed for course correction, supported by legislative measures like Section 82 of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 (Juvenile Justice Act). This legislation prescribes penalties, including fines and disciplinary action for the first offence, and imprisonment for three months for subsequent offences.

The Court explored the Social Control Theory, emphasizing Formal and Informal Social Control methods. The Court referred to sociological theories and a 2023 review by Sanam Vaghefi and Chris Drew, highlighting various forms of Informal Social Control, such as shaming and praising. The Bench also relied on sociologist Albert Hunter's three categories of Informal Social Controls: Private, Parochial, and Public, and discussed sociology norms—Folkways, Mores, Taboos, and Laws—significantly influencing human behaviour.

The Bench drew upon Sociologist Albert Hunter's classification of three categories of Informal Social Controls: Private, Parochial, and Public. Private Social Control is enforced by friends and family, while Parochial Social Control is maintained by close contacts like neighbours and colleagues. Public Social Control, on the other hand, is upheld by fellow citizens at large.

The Bench also referenced four types of sociology norms significantly shaping human behaviour. Folkways learned informally through growing up, are enforced through social pressure, inclusion, gossiping, and praise. Mores, representing moral norms often tied to religious rules, are maintained through informal social control methods like ignoring and shunning. Taboos, deemed 'negative norms,' prompt shock, gasps, group exclusion, avoidance, gossip, and parental guidance if violated. Lastly, Laws, and norms defined as legal or illegal by the government, are backed by the force of legal consequences for those breaching them.

The Court observed that the case's discussion underscores various Informal Social Controls, functioning as mechanisms to guide individuals without resorting to legal procedures. Teachers, acting as mentors, are obligated to utilize such informal methods to guide and mentor students, without it being construed as Abetment or Instigation.

In a broader societal context, the Bench identified five types of Informal Social Control mechanisms: Shaming, Praising, Gossiping, Physical Aggression, and Informal Dress Codes. Despite the potential disapproval of some controls, the overarching goal is to guide children not only towards academic excellence but also to mold them into responsible citizens who contribute positively to society. Given the prohibition of corporal punishment, corrective measures like reprimand or scolding become essential when a child exhibits deviant behaviour or unacceptable conduct due to curiosity, ignorance, or peer pressure during school days. The objective is to steer the child onto the right path, preventing negative examples and averting distress for others.

The Court observed that Section 89 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), is designed to consider acts done in good faith for the benefit of children or insane persons, regardless of the guardian's consent. In the school context, where education is provided to children below 12 years of age, the Principal and Teachers bear the primary responsibility to uphold discipline and create a peaceful atmosphere, ensuring the comprehensive growth of all students.

The Bench emphasized that Section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) addresses abetment of suicide, imposing penalties for those aiding in the act. To charge an individual, essential conditions include instigation, conspiracy, or intentional aid, as defined in Section 107 of the IPC. “The essential three conditions that are necessarily required to be present individually in the sequence leading to the commissioning of suicide by a person are as below: i. a. Instigation to commit suicide. b. Conspiracy leading to person committing suicide c. Intentionally aiding by an act or omission to commit suicide”, the Bench observed.

The Bench noted that mere suggestions lacking mens-rea do not amount to abetment. Citing the case of Geo Varghese v State of Rajasthan and another [(2021) 19 SCC 144], the Court underscored the importance of direct or indirect incitement and reasonableness for a Section 306 conviction. Referring to the case of Sanju alias Sanjai Singh Sengar v State of M.P. (2002 AIR SC 1998), the Court reiterated the essential role of mens rea and the necessity for tangible evidence indicating a guilty state of mind. In all crimes, including abetment, mens rea must be established, demanding concrete proof of the petitioners' culpability and a guilty state of mind to abet suicide.

Based on the presented facts and discussions, the Court held that there is no evidence of abetment, instigation, or conspiracy involving the petitioners. While acknowledging the pain and agony of the family, the Court emphasized that others should not be penalized for these circumstances.

Accordingly, the Court allowed the Petitioner and quashed the FIR and consequential proceedings.

Cause Title: Virendra Singh Rana v State Of Madhya Pradesh

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