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Issue No.: 559 | January 2014
 

Can We Legislate for a Better Society?

Rca Godbole
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Everybody seems to see stringent legal measures as the only effective way to solve any and every societal problem.

In the year 1997, Justice J.S. Verma, then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, had laid down guidelines to prevent "sexual harassment at workplace” (popularly referred to as the "Vishakha guidelines”), which now have come to haunt our public intellectuals and self proclaimed custodians of journalistic standards. 

On December 23, 2012 a three member Committee headed by (former) Chief Justice J.S. Verma, was constituted to recommend amendments to the Criminal Law so as to provide for quicker trial and enhanced punishment for criminals accused of committing sexual assault against women. The Committee was constituted in response to the roiling anger and frustration expressed all across the country in response to the bestial gang-rape and murder of a young student in Delhi in December 2012. The Committee submitted its report on January 23, 2013.

The report has suggested no new or stricter legal remedies. It has reassigned certain crimes such as acid attacks on women to the category of sexual violence, it has pointed out the shortcomings in certain acts such as Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act 1956, which does not define trafficking comprehensively since it only criminalizes trafficking for the purpose of prostitution; and it has suggested procedural reforms in management of cases related to crime against women, along with educational and electoral reforms. This is what a serious, reasonable and responsible committee would be expected to do, but unfortunately we in this country, cannot hope for such guidance every time. We, as a society, and our government as our elected representatives, clamour for and constitute a committee for each and every outrage that occurs in our country, headed by a legal luminary. Everybody seems to see stringent legal measures as the only effective way to solve any and every societal problem.

There is a fundamental fallacy at work here, which renders most of the work done by most of committees meaningless. We must understand that the law system, legal framework, and to a large extent the government delivery mechanisms are ALL designed to prevent undesirable outcomes. This avoidance is achieved through punitive measures of the legal framework and through accounting and reporting systems of the government mechanisms, but fact remains that these are preventive measures. The oft lamented gap between law and implementation of law is so daunting because of this avoidance mechanism squared.

There is no provision in the law to induce desirable outcomes, elicit exemplary behavior or to single out positive initiative for notice. Offences are documented, categorized, and differentiated minutely, but merit does not fall within the purview of this system. The government mechanisms are put to work to realize theoretically laudable objectives in terms of public benefit, but are designed with a chain of decision making which practically impedes delivery of anything anywhere with anything resembling speed.

For a society to function normally, it must do so with some decency or kindness or dare we say, even beauty. It is just not enough that people are prevented from doing bad things, or social interaction is sanitized of bad outcomes. One could argue that a better way to have a community worth living in would be that a few people do active good, perform acts of merit, are motivated to intervene positively and where most people are prevented from doing bad things.

Law or government delivery system thereof is, by definition, incapable of ensuring this. As the recent Verma committee report suggests, reforms on various levels, change of mind sets would be the elements to stress if a few good people are to be motivated to intervene positively.

In response to the Delhi gang rape and women’s safety concerns we got fatuous suggestion with budgetary implications such as arming the Railway Police guards on suburban local trains, who man the ladies only compartments at night. With the present set of WWI standard arms that our police personnel carry on trains, a prior written permission is required to fire them. Providing better equipment under these circumstances is hardly going to add to the crime prevention potential of the policemen. 

As a matter of fact, the reason why women travel safely on Mumbai locals is not those benighted police guards with their outdated and legally hampered weapons. It is the sheer number of random working men who take the same trains, or are present on train stations.

The sooner we stop looking to legal solutions for our manifold shortcomings as a society, the better chance we have of calling upon the inner reserves of normality or common sense most of us possess to overcome our problems.

Dr. Rca Godbolé, Scientific Adviser and IP Strategist. Email:
rcagodbole@gmail.com
 
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Obituary

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Perspective

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Can We Legislate for a Better Society?

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High Time to Abolish Governmental Awards

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Elections to Parliament: Participation of Veterans

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