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LAW: THE ULTIMATE INSTRUMENT OF SOCIAL CHANGE

INTRODUCTION

Law, the great protector and mightiest sovereign of a civilized society has been around us for quite some time now. Owing to its dynamic nature and various aspects, it has always been difficult to present a single satisfactory definition of law that applies to all the legal systems of the world. Despite this ever-changing nature of law, its connection with society cannot be denied. The spirit of law is not to be searched in any ideology or philosophy which might have inspired it but it may be found in the experience of the people who made it and put it into practice.[1]

LAW AND SOCIETY

Before the advent of legal systems, people and their social dealings were governed by customs and traditions backed by social sanctions. These customs would often discriminate among people based on caste and gender, and impose on them inhuman practices like Sati, Child marriage, and untouchability, thus came into existence various social evils.

With the gradual introduction of the law in society, social reforms began, where people and their needs were above custom and religion.

Society cannot exist without the law. Law is the bond of society; that which makes it, which preserves it, and keeps it together. It is in fact, the essence of civil society.

  • Joseph P Bradley.

POSITION OF WOMEN

Females have always been the victim of various social atrocities in the name of their gender. But, by the mid-eighteenth century, many of these social evils had caught the attention of the then-British government. With the efforts of Raja Ram Mohan Roy, backed by Lord William Bentinck, the Governor-General of British India, Sati was legally banned throughout the jurisdiction of the country in 1829.[2] Female infanticide was also suppressed during these years of benevolent administration. Another act was passed on 16th July 1856, which legalized the remarriage of Hindu widows. This was followed by Female Infanticide Prevention Act (1870)[3]. Within a decade, the injustice of centuries was undone and women found some rights in the public regime.

Even though such social reforms were eyed with disgust by the society of that time but they laid the foundation of a modern legal system that brought about a more equitably co-existent society.

It was not late when the law became a part of public conscience and our Constitution makers included specific provisions i.e. Articles 14, 15, and 16[4], which not only put women on an equal footing with men but also allowed the government to make special provisions for their empowerment. Apart from these constitutional rights, the law has come to the rescue of women time and again; the Hindu Marriage Act (1955)[5], Dowry Prohibition Act (1961)[6], and Prevention of Child Marriage Act (2006)[7] are some examples of the same.

The force of social change is still much prevalent. In the case of Shayara Bano v Union of India[8], the Supreme Court did away with the practice of triple talaq. In the same concern, the Muslim Women (Protection of Right of Marriage) Act, 2019 was passed, whereby the husband would be imprisoned for a period of up to 3 years if he indulged in the act of triple talaq.[9]

Regarding their empowerment in the workforce, we may look at the Secretary, Ministry of Defence v Babita Puniya and Ors[10] where the court gave the decision that all women are at par with their male counterparts in defence services and are entitled to equal benefit of ranks, promotions, and pensions.

THE UNTOUCHABLES

One of the most prominent diseases of our Indian societal mind was untouchability. This social evil was a black spot on the face of our nation and this was not a mere physical entity but rather a state of mind where a person was considered superior or inferior entirely based on birth. There was a section that was denied the basic liberty and respect of life for purely unfair reasons, thereby hampering the overall growth of the State and increasing the rift between a society that otherwise could have together led the nation to a successful future. The vehicle of a modern nation cannot run smoothly without all its tires being of equal size and capability.

A change in ideology is a hard and time taking process, but the imposition of a prohibitory law can alter the result that such ideology may have on society while also allowing people to look at their ethics through the eyes of the law.

Similar happened when the constitution makers decided to change the course of Indian society for the people belonging to lower castes. Articles 14, 15, 16, and 17 of the Constitution[11] realized the primal aim of securing equality for all our citizens. Not only was untouchability abolished and all forms of its practice forbidden but it was also declared an offence under law. This landmark step widened the horizon of a typical Indian mind and accelerated the overall growth of our society. Had legislators not intervened, this practice would have taken ages to vanish.

MARITAL LAWS

The institution of marriage in almost all religions has an ancient and sacramental origin. Yet this practice did not exist in the primitive civilizations. The concept of marriage itself was introduced in the early human community to limit people’s unregulated physical intercourse with each other and to establish a proper parentage of a newborn child. As time went by, various religions began regulating their marital affairs differently, but many of them had shortcomings.

Hindu marriage, for example, had a lot of sacramental value owing to which the relation of a husband and wife was considered to be one for seven next births. This did not allow them to end their marriage in case of a breakdown in their relationship. Similarly, before the regulations of the Shariat Law,[12] a Muslim male could have as many wives as he desired.

In addition to this, there was no exclusive age limitation in any of these religions. And thus, child marriage was profoundly practised in pre-independence India. The codification of personal family laws devoid of restrictive traditions and filled with the principles of harmony was a monumental step in the legislative history of our country. All these family laws belonging to different religions have been kept separate from each other to safeguard the faith of people and yet reasonable alterations have been introduced to do away with their loopholes. The Special Marriage Act (1954)[13] provides for marital law regardless of religion, race, or identity, it also allows for inter-religion marriages which otherwise are not governed by any other act.

To regulate the minimum age of marriage, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (2006)[14] was introduced, which governed the age of marriage in all the religions of India. The introduction of modified personal laws has made the process of divorce, maintenance, adoption, partition, and succession a lot easier than before.

CONCLUSION

The introduction of various statutes and legislations has immensely benefitted society, and yet the law continues to grow. Law has to keep changing with the timely needs of humans and their surrounding environment, there is no end to the development of law; thus, even the law of today might become a history of tomorrow if the time may require. For a thriving democracy, law and society essentially will have to work hand in hand because their existence is majorly interdependent. Therefore, no matter how much the legal interpretations and procedures change with the passing decades, the law has to be imbibed with the values of justice, equity, and good conscience and it will always continue to transform society into a better version of itself by having a positive impact in the lives of people and removing the loopholes that might hamper their rights. 

Author(s) Name: Athika Gupta (Unity Law College, Lucknow)

Reference(s):

[1] State of Uttar Pradesh v. Jai Bir Singh (2005) 5 SCC 1

[2] BL Grover A New Look at Modern Indian History (32nd edn, S Chand 2018) 127

[3] Female Infanticide Prevention Act 1870 (Act No. 08 of 1870)

[4] Constitution of India 1949

[5] Hindu Marriage Act 1955 (Act No. 25 of 1955)

[6] Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 (Act No. 28 of 1961)

[7] Prevention of Child Marriage Act 2006 (Act No. 06 of 2007)

[8] Shayara Bano v. Union of India and Ors, AIR 2017 SC 4609

[9] Muslium Women (Protection of Right of Marriage) Act 2019, s 3, s 4

[10] Secretary, Ministry of Defence v. Babita Puniya and Ors, AIR 2020 7 SC 469

[11] Constitution of India 1949

[12] Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937

[13] Special Marriage Act 1954 (Act No. 43 of 1954)

[14] Prevention of Child Marriage Act 2006 (Act No. 06 of 2006)