In a case of suicide of a student because of alleged harassment by his teacher, a Bench of the Supreme Court has held that reprimanding the student for his discipline would not amount to provoking him to commit suicide.

The Bench of Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice Krishna Murari observed that, "The disciplinary measures adopted by a teacher or other authorities of a school, reprimanding a student for his indiscipline, in our considered opinion, would not tantamount to provoking a student to commit suicide, unless there are repeated specific allegations of harassment and insult deliberately without any justifiable cause or reason."

The Bench also pointed out, "A simple act of reprimand of a student for his behaviour or indiscipline by a teacher, who is under moral obligations to inculcate the good qualities of a human being in a student would definitely not amount to instigation or intentionally aid to the commission of a suicide by a student."

The Bench observed this while setting aside a judgment of the High Court of Rajasthan that declined a petition filed by the teacher to quash the FIR. The said FIR was filed against him under Section 306 of the IPC by mother of deceased student alleging that her son died by suicide due to mental harassment meted out by the appellant. The FIR was registered on May 2, 2018, seven days after the 14-year-old ended life by hanging himself froma fan.

As per the FIR, the victim boy was under deep mental pressure because the appellant had harassed and insulted him in the presence of everyone and he was not willing to go to school on April 25, 2018 but was persuaded to go to school by the complainant. When he returned from the school, again he was under pressure and on being enquired, told that he was again harassed and insulted by the 'GEO, PTI Sir' (the appellant). The boy was informed that the parents had been called to school the next day, and this brought him under further pressure and tension. He committed suicide at 4 AM on April 26, 2018. He had left a suicide note inter alia saying, "'Thanks GEO (PTI) of my school".

Before arriving the conclusion, the Bench narrated the facts averred in the petition filed by the teacher that

"The appellant as a PT Teacher, he was imparting Physical Training to the students from 1st to 5th standard and being a member of the Disciplinary Committee, was also charged with the duty of maintaining discipline in the school which included keeping a watch upon students and oversee that they are attending the classes instead of bunking the same and moving around in the school premises without permission. The victim, a student of class 9, generally used to bunk his classes and was warned by the appellant and other school staff a number of times. On 19.04.2018, he was caught by the appellant bunking classes and moving around the school campus without any cause or permission and a warning was given to him. On 25.04.2018, he was caught bunking classes and again the appellant issued him a warning and on account of persistent act of bunking classes, reported the same to the Principal of the School, who informed the parents of the boy to come to the school."

No material overt act has been attributed to the teacher, the Bench noted

"Thus, the appellant having found the deceased boy regularly bunking classes, first reprimanded him but on account of repeated acts, brought this fact to the knowledge of the Principal, who called the parents on telephone to come to the school. No further overt act has been attributed to the appellant either in the First Information Report or in the statement of the complainant, nor anything in this regard has been stated in the alleged suicide note. The alleged suicide note only records insofar as, the appellant is concerned, 'THANKS GEO (PTI) OF MY SCHOOL'. Thus, even the suicide note does not attribute any act or instigation on the part of the appellant to connect him with the offence for which he is being charged."

The teacher can't be charged under abetment of suicide for disciplining students, the Bench observed

"If, a student is simply reprimanded by a teacher for an act of indiscipline and bringing the continued act of indiscipline to the notice of Principal of the institution who conveyed to the parents of the student for the purposes of school discipline and correcting a child, any student who is very emotional or sentimental commits suicide, can the said teacher be held liable for the same and charged and tried for the offence of abetment of suicide under section 306 IPC. Our answer to the said question is 'No'."

The Bench pointed out that school authorities can't shut their eyes to any indiscipline of the student

"'Spare the rod and spoil the child' an old saying may have lost its relevance in present days and Corporal punishment to the child is not recognised by law but that does not mean that a teacher or school authorities have to shut their eyes to any indiscipline act of a student. It is not only a moral duty of a teacher but one of the legally assigned duty under Section 24 (e) of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 to hold regular meetings with the parents and guardians and apprise them about the regularity in attendance, ability to learn, progress made in learning and any other act or relevant information about the child."

The Bench stated that the suicide note is rhetoric document penned by an immature mind

"Insofar as, the suicide note is concerned, despite our minute examination of the same, all we can say is that suicide note is rhetoric document, penned down by an immature mind. A reading of the same also suggests the hypersensitive temperament of the deceased which led him to take such an extraordinary step, as the alleged reprimand by the accused, who was his teacher, otherwise would not ordinarily induce a similarly circumstanced student to commit suicide."

Sympathy to the mother can't translate into legal remedy, the Bench noted

"We are conscious of the pain and suffering of the complainant who is the mother of the deceased boy. It is also very unfortunate that a young life has been lost in this manner, but our sympathies and the pain and suffering of the complainant, cannot translate into a legal remedy, much less a criminal prosecution."

While outlining the law on abetment of suicide under Section 306 of IPC, the Bench explained

"What is required to constitute an alleged abetment of suicide under Section 306 IPC is there must be an allegation of either direct or indirect act of incitement to the commission of offence of suicide and mere allegations of harassment of the deceased by another person would not be sufficient in itself, unless, there are allegations of such actions on the part of the accused which compelled the commission of suicide. Further, if the person committing suicide is hypersensitive and the allegations attributed to the accused is otherwise not ordinarily expected to induce a similarly situated person to take the extreme step of committing suicide, it would be unsafe to hold the accused guilty of abetment of suicide. Thus, what is required is an examination of every case on its own facts and circumstances and keeping in consideration the surrounding circumstances as well, which may have bearing on the alleged action of the accused and the psyche of the deceased."

Regarding jurisdiction of the High Court while exercising powers under Section 482 of the Cr.PC, the Bench opined

"The inherent power vested in the Court should not be exercised to stifle a legitimate prosecution. However, the inherent power or the extra-ordinary power conferred upon the High Court, entitles the said Court to quash a proceeding, if it comes to the conclusion that allowing the proceeding to continue would be an abuse of the process of the Court, or the ends of justice require that the proceeding ought to be quashed."

Parties : Geo Varghese Vs. the State of Rajasthan