HOW THE LAW CAUSES SOCIAL CHANGE

INTRODUCTION

The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law- Aristotle

Law is fundamental to any society. Since time immemorial, some of the other forms of law have always governed Society. From the Vedic civilization during ancient times to the modern-day legal system and thus it is evident that law interlinks with Society. It is rooted in social institutions and socio-economic networks. In such a dynamic and multicultural society like India, the judiciary has always played a vital role. Particularly in the post-independence era, when the British had left the country in shreds and an immediate and effective set of laws was the need of the hour as several issues such as food shortage and poverty needed redressal.

There are several functions of law. One of its objectives is to keep up stability and afford orderly life in Society. The law is an essential social control tool. The rule of law is the underpinning of democracy in any constitution. It is a tool for social control since it instills a sense of fear and obligation in people, and their behavior in a society is governed by law.  They become aware of their duties and responsibilities as a result of the use of force. Laws are in place to prevent individuals from being exploited. They protect individuals. The Indian Constitution, criminal, civil, and other laws are all geared to achieve this purpose. Laws give a framework and set of rules to assist in the resolution of specific conflicts. Individuals can bring their disputes before an unbiased fact-finder, such as a judge or jury, under the law. Here we will explore why law causes social change and how it does, with the help of several examples and supporting evidence.

ARGUMENTS

Law is responsible for social change as law or the legal framework is progressive, and ahead of its time, there are several instances where laws put in place have changed Society for the better. Let us take examples from when India was under British rule when the abhorrent practice of sati was abolished in 1829. This was one of the first primary social reform legislation[1].  Law is based on impartiality or being unbiased, and this is another primary reason why law changes Society. As it does not differentiate between anyone regardless of caste, creed, and colour and everyone is equal in its eyes, it changes Society. Since the dawn of civilization, women have been at a disadvantage, having to always depend on men and not having much freedom of their own. They have been subject to harassment, abuse, and moral policing, with society always controlling their lives. However, due to laws such as the equal remuneration act (1976) and the POSH (prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace) Act, women now stand at a much better place. After the advent of the equal remuneration Act,[2] women have been able to sue for malpractices prevailing in their workplace and get closure. Under the Act, the employer must ensure no bias while hiring, and women are at par with their male counterparts. The Act has bought about significant social change wherein awareness spread, and people realized that sexual harassment at the workplace is wrong.

Another example of this is the dowry prevention act of 1961,[3] An Act under which Any person who demands dowry, directly or indirectly, from the parents, other relatives, or guardians of an As the case may be, will be punished by imprisonment for a term of not less than six months, but not more than two years, and a fine of not less than ten thousand rupees.

Abortion laws are one of the best examples that prove that law changes Society. The medical termination of pregnancy act 2021[4] is a landmark and revolutionary step that indicates evolving social norms. The Act came into force on September 24. The Act amends the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) stipulates the conditions under which medical termination of pregnancy can be pursued. The primary amendments extend the upper limit of the gestation from twenty to twenty-four weeks for special categories of women, including survivors of rape, victims of incest, and other vulnerable women (differently-abled women, minors, among others). Another key amendment is the confidentiality clause. The name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated cannot be revealed except to a person authorized by law. The Amendment reflects the change in definition from “pregnant married woman” to “pregnant woman” and from “her husband” to “her partner,” thereby destigmatizing pregnancies outside of marriage, changing Society for the better.

Law changes Society because it changes or has a direct effect on the lifestyle of people. Laws on pollution, narcotics, and tobacco use are some of them.  The example that comes to light here is the nationwide ban on smoking in public areas under the Prohibition of Smoking in Public Places Rules, 2008 and COTPA[5], 2003(the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act) and Anybody who violates this law is charged with a sum of ₹5000. The sale of tobacco products within 100 yards of educational institutions is also prohibited. Hasn’t this law fundamentally caused social change? Before the advent of this law, smoking or tobacco use was highly prevalent. It was even seen as a fashion statement and was deemed “cool” even. The general public often became subjected to or became the victim to smoking and dealt with the indirect severe health risks.

Legislations on pollution are again an example of the law changing lifestyles and causing social change, The Air (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1981,[6] under which the state’s Pollution Control Board (SPCB)have the power to control and regulate emissions from automobiles, industries or for the discharge of any pollutant into the atmosphere. The law also gave states the right to inspect, examine and enforce air quality regulations set by their Pollution Control Boards. By setting these rules and regulations laws change and have a direct impact on our lifestyles. They control the way we go about our day-to-day life.

Laws lead to social change in every sector snd sphere of life. They protect the minority or vulnerable groups from exploitation and also uplift them. The Untouchability (Offences) Act and, prevention of atrocities against the SC-ST[7] Act are great examples. The caste system or stratification has existed been in existence for more than 2000 years. The present-day scheduled castes and tribes were referred to as the depressed classes and have faced gross discrimination. Ill-treatment Untouchability was the inter-human relationship between Caste Hindus and Scheduled Castes since the latter was polluting them. Such Cast discrimination has existed in our country for centuries, becoming more stratified during the colonial era. Adding on to the protection of the weaker and underprivileged sections of Society, the constituent assembly provided 22.5 %( 15%SC and 7.5%ST) reservation for the Dalits ( earlier called 87mmdepressed classes) and Adivasis or tribals[8]. The impact of this reservation has been substantial “representation of SCs/ STs has increased in all the Groups viz. A, B, C and D during last six decades.At the dawn of independence representation of SCs/STs in services was very little. As per available information, the representation of SCs in Groups A, B, C and D as on 1.1.1965 was 1.64%, 2.82%, 8.88%, and 17.75%, respectively which has increased to 12.5%, 14.9%, 15.7%, and 19.6% respectively as on 1.1.2008. Likewise while representation of STs as on 1.1.1965 in Group A, B, C and D was 0.27%, 0.34%, 1.14% & 3.39% respectively, it has increased to 4.9%, 5.7%, 7.0% and 6.9% respectively as on 1.1.2008. Total representation of SCs and STs as on 1.1.1965 was 13.17% and 2.25% respectively, which has increased to 17.51% and 6.82% respectively on 1.1.2008.”[9]

The Right to Education Act 2009,[10] also known as the RTE Act 2009, was enacted by the Parliament of India on August 4 2009. an example where the law has directly changed Society. It describes modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged between 6-14 years in India under Article 21 (A) of the Constitution of India. This Act came into effect on April 1 2010 and made India one of the 135 countries to have made education a fundamental right for every child; here the law has caused social change by stressing the value of education in children. In addition to making education a fundamental right, another one that follows is the Child labor prohibition and regulation act 1986 under this Act employing children below the age of 14 is declared illegal. Legally, the definition of a child is someone who has not completed the age of fourteen is a child. Adolescents aged between 14-18 can be employed, except in some hazardous occupations defined in the Act such as mining, slaughterhouses, Manufacturing of fireworks or inflammable substances, etc. such acts in place directly prove that laws change Society. The child marriage prevention 1929 act is also a great example of legislation in favour of children. The definition of “child” pertaining to this Act is a male under twenty-one years of age and a female under or has not completed eighteen years of age. Any male above eighteen but under twenty-one who contracts a child marriage will be imprisoned for up to 15 days or a fine up to rupees one thousand or both.

We have looked at several reasons as to why law changes Society. now let us take a different approach and prove how Society doesn’t change the law. Society in the first place exists because of laws. If there were no laws there would be no order and stability. There would be no difference between humans and animals. If laws didn’t exist, we would quite literally lead our lives like animals. People would cause harm to get money, resort to unfair and horrible practices, and be complete chaos. It is next to impossible to change the way people think and see the world. Especially in a country like ours which is deep-rooted in tradition and what has been taught to them, they are reluctant to change. So the argument that a change in people’s mindset and mentality is causing laws to change or develop the law is incorrect. Their thinking and mindset never fundamentally change. For example, let us look at female feticide and infanticide; why do people do this? They do it as they think that a female child is of no use and she will just have to be married off and won’t earn for them, becoming a liability. However, in the present times female infanticide and feticide rates have reduced significantly; why is that? Is it because people have realized that it is wrong to do so? That a daughter can also earn and support them? No. it is not because of a shift in the mentality of the public; it is only because laws have been put in place, the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994[11], which bans the use of ultrasound, amniocentesis and other such methods to determine the sex of the fetus. The strict implementation of this legislation has led to significant improvement of sex ratios throughout the country. This is just one of the many examples that prove that Society doesn’t change the law, but law does.

Another example is the legislation passed for women in the armed forces. The Supreme Court of India, in a historic moment for the Indian military, on February 17, 2020, allowed women officers in the Army to compete for command positions on equal ground with male officers, proving that the army’s stand was “discriminatory,” “disturbing,” and based on stereotypes.[12] The Court also stated that all women would be eligible for Permanent Commission regardless of their years of service. This shows how even when Society was backward or narrow-minded in their thinking law intervened and led to significant social change, getting rid of gender-based discrimination in the armed forces. Adding on to this is the very recent order passed by the supreme Court by which females are now allowed to sit for the NDA exams and get admission into the national defense academy. The Bench stated that this policy choice is based on “gender discrimination” and expressed displeasure with a persisting regressive mindset, clearly showing that law changes society and not vice-versa.

CONCLUSION

Laws change Society, it is not immediate, but it is persistent, but even though laws don’t change Society immediately, they at least set preconditions for social change, set a benchmark which is to be reached, for people will not accept laws that are progressive and ahead of their times. But with time, the law will eventually lead to the desired change. The Court has taken up the fight for social justice proactively and zealously, even going so far as to articulate fresh social rights such as banning the use of misogynistic practices such as the instant triple talaq or talaq-e-biddat and decriminalizing homosexuality. The Supreme Court has taken a proactive role in the social development of languishing masses. It has undoubtedly functioned as a catalyst in the process of people’s social development. It is also crucial to understand that India is still a developing country and has a lot to work on in terms of social change. Laws take time for effective enforcement and implementation. Our country is at a stage where the population is still in the process of learning how to obey laws. Given the massive population we have, it is an arduous process. Still, nonetheless, it has undoubtedly functioned as a catalyst in people’s social development, with notable examples including the dilution of caste inequities and protection measures for the weak and vulnerable.


[1] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sati

[2] https://labour.gov.in/sites/default/files/equal_remuneration_act_1976_0.pdf

[3] https://wcd.nic.in/act/dowry-prohibition-act-1961

[4]https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1705381

[5] https://www.tobaccocontrollaws.org/files/live/India/India%20-%20COTPA%20-%20national.pdf

[6] https://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/A1981-14.pdf 

[7]https://clpr.org.in/blog/the-sc-st-prevention-of-atrocities-act-1989-dilution-by-the-courts/#:~:text=

[8]  1. CONSTITUTIONAL PROVISIONS Articles 341 and 342 of the Constitution of India define as to who would be Scheduled Castes and Sc 

[9] https://persmin.gov.in/DOPT/Brochure_Reservation_SCSTBackward/Ch-01_2014.pdf 

[10] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/igoravsharma/what-is-right-to-education-act-rte-act-32034/

[11]. http://www.ncpcr.gov.in/view_file.php?fid=434

[12] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/permanent-commission-to-women-implement-order-instead-of-seeking-clarifications-says-sc-to-govt-101627929389758.html