PRACTICE OF SENICIDE BY CULTURE
PRACTICE OF SENECIDE IN INDIA
REPORTS AND ARTICLE ON THALAIKOOTHAL
WHEN CUSTOM CAN BECOME A LAW
VALIDITY OF THALAIKOOTHAL
WHETHER SANTHARA TO BE ALLOWED OR NOT?
"The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government."... Thomas Jefferson
Senicide is the practice of suicide or killing of aged person. And one can find this kind of practice at Tamil Nadu in India in the name of Thalaikoothal. Thalaikoothal is the practice of killing elderly people of the family. Thalaikoothal is a Tamil word which means “leisurely oil bath”. And the methods which are used for the killing of the aged person in the name of Thalaikoothal are not only painful but it’s against the entire humanity. Ethically, morally and legally such practices should be stopped as its violate Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and it’s against the mankind. According to Article 21 of Indian Constitution, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. Right to life under Article 21 does not include Right to die. Right to life is a natural right. Even in India only Passive euthanasia is permitted and not the Active euthanasia. The question regarding Right to die first time came before Bombay High Court in State of Maharashtra v. Maruty Sripati Dubal 1987 Cri LJ 743. And here in this case court declare that Right to Life includes Right to die, thus making Section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 which makes attempt to suicide as punishable offence unconstitutional. But Supreme Court in Gian Kaur v State of Punjab (1996)2 SCC 648, held that Right to life does not include “Right to die” or “Right to be killed”. Thus, attempt to suicide is punishable offence under section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860. Right to life is a natural right and right to die is not a natural right and no one has a right to finish their life in unnatural way. Thus, the practice of Thalaikoothal is illegal and unethical.
KEYWORDS: - Thalaikoothal, Euthanasia, Senecide, Suicide, Murder
Senicide means “The Killing off of the Old Men in a Tribe”.
Senicide is the practice of killing old and elderly people of the family by there family members. One can find such kind of practice in different tribes or society in past as well as in present society. In every culture somewhere the old person were neglected and forced to live alone or abandoned, so that they would die without becoming burden for there family leaving behind.
- During the migration period ( around 400 to 800 CE), Heruli a tribe from Germany use to practice senicide by placing the sick and elderly person on a long stack of wood and after that they stabbed them to death before setting the pyre alight.
- Even in modern India, Senicide is currently practiced in Tamil Nadu. The traditional practice of senicide by the family members is called Thalaikoothal. Thalaikoothal is Tamil word which means “leisurely oil bath”. This is a process in which “an extensive oil bath is given to an elderly person before the crack of dawn. The rest of the day, he or she is given several glasses of cold tender coconut water”. By doing this the temperature of the body falls suddenly and causing high fever which leads to the death of the old aged person within 1- 2 days.
- Again Inuit a group of peoples inhabiting in the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska also use to practice senicide. A common belief is that, the Inuit would leave their elderly on the ice to die. Senicide among the Inuit people was rare, except during famines. The last known case of an Inuit senicide was in 1939.
- Again Ubasute (abandoning an old woman) a custom which is practices in Japan, in the distant past, whereby an infirm or elderly relative was carried to a mountain, or some other remote, desolate place, and left there to die.
India is the only country where one can find different religions, cultures, languages, customs and traditions etc. And every faith has as its own belief and idea. And their right to practice and profess their religion is protected by Article 25 of Indian Constitution. Recently it has been found that senicide is practiced by the people of Virudhunagar, Madurai and Teni districts ofTamil Nadu, India in the name of custom i.e. Thalaikoothal.
Thalaikoothal means “leisurely oil bath” and it is a Tamil word. In this process “an extensive oil bath is given to an elderly person before the crack of dawn. The rest of the day, he or she is given several glasses of cold tender coconut water”. After this the temperature of the body falls suddenly and causing high fever which leads to the death of the old aged person within 1- 2 days. According to Dr. Ashok Kumar, general practitioner in Madurai, “Tender coconut water taken in excess causes renal failure”. And this method is found to be as fail- proof as “the elderly often do not have the immunity to survive the sudden fever”.
This is not the only practice to perform Thalaikoothal, but recently many other practices have been evolved for performing the same rituals. One can check the site of News Nation for there documentary picture on Thalaikoothal. News Nation in its sting operation named “The Bath of Death” found that the people of Virudhunagar used some kind of medicine which is used to kill snakes and pigs. Not only that, but one of the most painful methods of killing is, when one swallows the mud dissolved in water. Doing this the person will suffer from indigestion and ultimately death as a result. Velayudham of Help age India said that “the families used to take mud from there own land, if they had any as it will makes their soul happy”. And if sometime they survive in this practice then again another treatment is given to that person i.e. milk treatment. In milk treatment, milk is poured by holding the nose tight. And sometime the milk treatment is often followed by starvation. Since, when milk is poured uninterruptedly into the mouth, it goes into the respiratory track. Thereby causing death of the person as a starved person cannot survive a single moment of suffocation.
Now the question arise that when the practice of Thalaikoothal was highlighted? It was when a 60 years old man named Selvaraj of Ramasamipuram Village, Virudhunagar died suddenly on 18th June, 2010. He was bed ridden after an accident for long time. After his sudden dead, his nephew Asokan registered an F.I.R and upon it, a woman named Zeenath was arrested for administering a poisonous injection to Selvaraj. But the then Commissioner of Police of Virudhunagar, Prabhakar admits that it was very hard to find any evidence as the body was cremated and there was no scope for re-examination of the corpse. Thus, Zeenath was released on bail. Some of the Villagers of the Ramasamipuram used to say that Zeenath was a professional mercy killer. When an investigation was done on mercy killing at Virudhunagar after the death of the Selvaraj, several other mysterious deaths were also reported. And the result was shocking for V K Shanmugham, district collector of Virudhunagar.
When Pramila Krishan, Journalist of Deccan Chronicale, came to know about the practices of Thalaikoothal, she was very shocked. And while investing the matter she found that most of the family members use to kill there parents whom they can’t effort. This is also shocking that aged people of Virudhunagar, they had accepted this practice of getting unnatural death as there fate as they also think that they have become burden for there children, as every thing in today’s world is costly. We all know that food and medical facilities which are the basic prime requirement of every one. But the people from poor section sometimes even fail to manage a handful of grain to have there one time meal in India. And in villages where it is tough for a person to manage a handful grain for his family in that case how he will manage his aged parents. That is the thinking of the aged parents because of which they accept the practice of Thalaikoothal. But that is not the only case tom kill there parents. In some cases it is also found that children’s kill there parents for getting ancestral property or sometime after getting the property from there parents. This practice is not limited to poor society but one can find this practice in High Society and is a very common practice in Modern World.
Now a days, peoples became so busy, that they forget the truth that what they are doing with there parents now, the same treatment they will also get from there children. A tree will be strong only when its roots will be strong. In the same way a family will be strong when it head will be treated well.
Dr. Archana Kaushik says that, “the national policy on older persons mentions that the root causes of the plight of older people are economic support and security. According to her we must do something or there must be something in the system by which we can realize the old people that they are not unproductive.
The News Nation while doing the sting operation found that this practice was prevalent in the poverty stricken of Tamil Nadu from 1980s. And also they founded that people working in the hospitals assist the villagers for killing there parents sometimes by giving lethal injections or some time by using medicines which is used to kill snake and pigs.
District welfare Officer, Chandra Devi said that the practice of Thalaikoothal is not confined to any caste, the only reason for such kind of practice is Poverty.
Again according to the president of Paneerpetty village Panchayat, Chellathorai, killing of elderly people is the better way to sole the financial crisis as there is no other alternative even though it is brutal. But killing of there parents doesn’t mean that they do not love their parents.
According to, M. Priyamvada, an assistant professor in the Criminology Department of the Madras University in Chennai , the practice of thalaikoothal has become a way to get rid of aged parents. Also in some cases it is found that to secure the government jobs under the “die-in-harness” scheme young sons have killed their fathers too.
Also according to Dr Raja, “There are still as many cases of thalaikoothal as there were before. The only difference is, earlier the family conducted it as a ritual, now it is more of a silent affair,” As per Lakshmi Subramanian, The Week’s journalist who did a depth study for Thalaikoothal found that the oil bath is not the only method that is used for Thalaikoothal. “They are given valium tablets, pesticides, sleeping pills and injections when the oil bath fails to take their lives.”
So, whenever an elder person of the family fell ill and his family member is unable to maintain him or afford the medical expenses in that case they use to fix the date for Thalaikoothal. Some people call this practice as “Euthanasia” and some call it “Homicide” as said by Rajeshwar Devarakonda. But whatever term one can use to denote this practices, but there is one thing which I would like to say that Modernization has not only improve the life of the people but it has also increase lots of hurdle in one’s life. Modernization has improved the life of the higher society but what about the poor society? Where still a poor man fails to manage a handful grains for his one time meal or even though we had a good medical facilities but still poor people were dying without getting any medical assistance.
Among various sources of law, custom is also one of the sources of law. According to Salmond, “custom is the embodiment of those principles which have commanded themselves to the national conscience as principles of justice and public utility”. Custom has to fulfill certain conditions for becoming law which are follows:-
1. Custom to become law must be immemorial.
2. It must be reasonable.
3. There must be continuous performance of it.
4. The enjoyment of custom must be peaceful one.
5. Custom must be certain and definite.
6. A custom will be valid if it is compulsory to perform.
7. It must be general or universal.
8. In addition, it should not be opposed to public policy.
9. Custom should not be in conflict with the statutory law.
From the above discussion we found that none of this condition for custom to become law is fulfilled for the practice of Thalaikoothal legally. In Baba Narayan versus Saboosa (1943)2 MLJ 186 , Sir George Rankin observed that “ In India, while a custom need not be immemorial, the requirement of long usage is essential since it is from this that custom derives its force as governing the parties’ rights in place of the general law.”
In addition, still now it is not clear that from when this practice of killing parents was started in Tamil Nadu. In India this practice is followed only in a particular district of Tamil Nadu. And it is unconstitutional to Article 21 of Indian Constitution. So, one should not be allow doing such practices in the name of Custom or tradition. Now when we talked about Thalaikoothal in that case one thing is notable that even if the people of the Virudhunagar were practicing this tradition but it is not clear that from when they are practicing this tradition. So, in that case this custom cannot become a law prevailing in that area.
Like the practice of Sati System, where a women use to and this was prevalent in ancient India. But latter on after the revolutionary movement of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, founder of Brahmo Samaj finally able to abolished Sati Pratha in the year 1829. And after that in the year 1987, The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act came into exist making this pratha illegal as well as making it a criminal offence.
According to Article 21 says, “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law”. Right to life under Article 21 does not include Right to die. Right to life is a natural right. The question regarding Right to die first time comes before Bombay High Court in State of Maharashtra v. Maruty Sripati Dubal 1987 Cri LJ 743 . And here in this case court declare that Right to Life includes Right to die, thus making Section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 which makes attempt to suicide as punishable offence unconstitutional. But Supreme Court in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (1996)2 SCC 648, held that Right to life does not include “Right to die” or “Right to be killed”. Thus, attempt to suicide is punishable offence under section 309 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and it is not unconstitutional to Indian Constitution Art. 21. Right to life is a natural right and right to die is not a natural right and no one has a right to finish their life in unnatural way.
Even when a petition was filed for Euthanasia, In Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug versus Union of India (2011)4 SCC 454 , Supreme Court in its judgment declared that only Passive Euthanasia is legal in India; means when a person is on ventilation in that case only, patient can be removed from the ventilation.
Even in India whether it is a Voluntary Euthanasia, Involuntary Euthanasia or Non- Voluntary Euthanasia whatever the case may be is not acceptable and is illegal here and it will be a punishable offence under Indian Penal Code except the passive Euthanasia.
From the above discussion we find that the practice of Thalaikoothal is unconstitutional. As no one in India is allowed to commit suicide and even in Euthanasia, only passive euthanasia is allowed. Therefore, in no way Thalaikoothal be practiced for killing old aged parents.
The term Euthanasia is derived from Greek roots “eu” means “well or good” and “t hanatos” means- “death’ means good death.
“The term Euthanasia normally implies an intentional termination of life by another at the explicit request of the person who wishes to die. Euthanasia is generally defined as the act of killing an incurably ill person out of concern and compassion for that person's suffering. It is sometimes called mercy killing, but many advocates of euthanasia define mercy killing more precisely as the ending of another person's life without his or her request. Euthanasia, on the other hand, is usually separated into two categories: passive euthanasia and active euthanasia. In many jurisdictions, active euthanasia can be considered murder or Manslaughter, whereas passive euthanasia is accepted by professional medical societies, and by the law under certain circumstances.”
Dutch Commission on Euthanasia (1985) has defined it as:
 Mamta Rao, Constitutional Law, 268-269 (Abhinandan Malik, 1st ed,2013)
 Shahina KK, Mother, Shall I put you to sleep?,( Nov. 3, 2014, 10:30 AM) http://archive.tehelka.com/story_main47.asp?filename=Ne201110Maariyamma.asp
 News Nation Bureau, “Operation Maut Ka Snaan”: A ritual to murder your parents, (Nov. 3, 2014, 12:30 PM)
 Munit Vikram, Thalaikoothal: A Ritual to murder your parents, ( Nov. 1, 2014, 12: 50 PM) http://munitvikram.blogspot.in/2010/11/thalaikoothal-ritual-to-murder-your.html
 Supra. 3
 Amir Khan, Satyamev jayate, ( Nov. 2, 2014, 9: 30 PM) http://pakedu.net/world-education/satyamev-jayate-old-age-episode-11-sunset-years-sunshine-life-15-july-2012/
 Supra. 8
 Saurabh Singh, “Thalaikoothal”- what it means! Perhaps Murdering Your Own who brought You on this Planet, Tehelka Magazine, Nov. 20, 2010, http://aavesh.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/thalaikoothal-what-it-means-perhaps-murdering-your-own-who-brought-you-on-this-planet/
 Shinto Joseph, Thalaikoothal: These Tamil Nadu hamlets can't watch the elders suffer. They kill them, MANORAMAONLINE, http://english.manoramaonline.com/news/nation/tamil-nadu-hamlets-cant-watch-elders-suffer-they-kill-them.html
 Soumya Mathew, A report on Thalaikoothal, a ritual of killing the elderly, practised in the rural pockets of Virudhunagar district, Tamil Nadu, https://soumyamathew94.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/thalaikoothal-killing-of-the-already-withering/
 Mark Magnier, In southern India, relatives sometimes quietly kill their elders, L.A. TIMES, Jan. 15, 2013 http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/15/world/la-fg-india-mercy-killings-20130116
 V.D Mahajan, JURISPRUDENCE & LEGAL THEORY,254(Eastern Book Company 5th ed, 1987)
 Ibid. 270
 Snehal, Raja Ram Mohan Roy- Greatest Social Reformer in the History of India, ( Nov. 6, 2014, 12: 50 PM) http://www.edurite.com/blog/raja-ram-mohan-roy-%E2%80%93-greatest-social-reformer-in-the-history-of-india/2028/#
 Shravan Kumar, Indian Mythology, 216 , ( Nov. 1, 2014, 12: 50 PM) http://www.indianetzone.com/46/shravan_kumar.htm
 Ibid. at 240
 K.D.Gaur, Textbook On The Indian Penal Code,532 (Universal Law Publishing Co. Pvt.Ltd,4th.ed., 2009)
 Euthanasia, THEFREEDICTIONARY, http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Voluntary+euthanasia
 Supra. 28
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