Yet Another Non-implementable Law

by Ritwik on July 17, 2010

Ours is a law-loving country.  Deprivation, oppression and crime are rampant. However our esteemed leadership cannot be accused of not doing enough legislatively to contain these problems. It’s a different matter that our bewildering gamut of laws usually end up multiplying aforesaid problems.

Readers would hardly need reminding of the far-sighted legislation that imposed a blanket ban on smoking in public places. Every major college and university now have big boards that declare them to be no smoking zones. Of course, this has caused all professors in say, JNU to give up smoking overnight. If there exists a place where this glorious objective has not been achieved then that is a lacuna of implementation. Of course, there could be nothing wrong with the law itself, even if it is making law breakers out of all us.

Or we could take the Punjab Excise Act, 1914 which somehow applies to Delhi and which bans the sale of alcohol to those under 25 years of age. I feel tempted to repeat the oft quoted line about being mature enough to vote and drive at 18 …

The latest such initiative comes from the Women and Child Development Ministry. This department has already given us controversial legislation like the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act and the Dowry Prohibition Act, which though noble in spirit, are overly susceptible to misuse. Earlier this year, the Ministry saw a change of guard when the last minister lost her Lok Sabha seat. There was  some hope that her successor will not display excessive zeal but would instead focus on deliverables.

This time, though, the Ministry has outdone itself, thus sending out an emphatic signal that it will continue to battle common sense regardless of changes at the top.

So what has happened? The Times of India reports that the Ministry is “piloting” a legislation that will make it possible for the authorities to penalize and even jail parents who beat their kids. In fact, it goes beyond that as the “comprehensive” draft bill, which not surprisingly, has been drafted after consultations with “civil society” seeks to prevent the abuse of children by parents, schools, day care centres, workplaces etc etc. It even seeks to cover ragging.

Of course, any effort to strengthen the legal framework to deal with child abuse is laudable, but some salient features of the proposed legislation require closer examination:

The proposed punishment for the first offence is one year imprisonment or a fine of Rs 5,000 that can be raised to three years’ imprisonment for a second offence with a fine of Rs 25,000.

Maybe I am reading this wrong. But the above seems to say that if ever this law is passed and implemented [which in India, as noted above, are two very different things] then any reasonably well off parent can get off by paying a paltry fine. However the same amount can be backbreaking for any of the country’s countless poor people. Maybe I ought to have more faith in our police system, but I cannot let go off the idea that this gives yet another tool for unscrupulous policemen to harass and torture the poor. Might it be that  the “civil society” activists who have consulted on the bill missed this insignificant detail?

The draft bill says, “Whoever intentionally inflicts physical penalty on a child for disciplinary purposes shall be punished for the offence of corporal punishment.”

Whoever means “family member, school, relatives, neighbours, friends, educational or care giving institutions, prisons and homes set up under the Juvenile Justice Act.” Again, maybe it’s just me but this seems awfully broad ranging. What will happen in case of a fight between two children, say one who is 14 and the other 17 ? Maybe the aggressor could be sent to one of our homely juvenile justice homes, which we can expect to be homelier still once this bill has been cleared.

It is obvious that the proposed bill is yet another act of over-zealousness which seeks to achieve social objectives by force of law, rather than investing in necessary social and cultural reform. It will be non-implementable, because of its sheer impracticality. That does not bother me as much as the fact that unlike the equally stupid anti-smoking law, the proposed bill has inherently greater scope for misuse and harassment.


Why can’t you appreciate the great work done by the progressive govt. and great NGOs. After all. it is not for nothing that we have one NGO for every 400 indians. this is like having veritable heaven ( with so many angels i.e. civil society activists populating it) on earth. They are the source of perennial wisdom. In fact, another law, restraining people like you from criticizing these angels is called for.
as far as the law for jailing parents is concerned, do you expect the ever so busy people to devote some time for talking to the wretched, uncouth people of this country. They are fit only to be reformed and civilized by the members of superior race of English speaking Babalog. And what is wrong with giving policemen and women an opportunity of making some money. After all, the Angrez Bahadur created the police precisely in such a manner that policeman gets a pittance as salary, and perforce makes for it by keeping the natives in their place.
True to their provenance, that is precisely what the NGOs and the govt are doing in such a wonderfully co-ordinated manner, and you politically incorrect moron, you dodo refuse to seeg the dynamics of change and change of dynamics and dialectics of both and hermeneutics of dialectics. Haven’t you read any of the current scriptures of wisdom?

by nawaldas on July 17, 2010 at 10:22 am. #

in continuation with my earlier post..
We are a law loving people graced with a law-enforcing govt. and system. Don’t you remember that the culprits of 1984 anti-sikh riots, 1992 demolition of babri masjid and consequent riots, and of 2002 godhra killings and gujrat riots and then of illegal mining in karnatka and orrissa have all been brought to the book and suitably punished.
why should you doubt the law-loving nature of our sahib logs and their babas and babys manning both the system and its discontents with great capability.

by nawaldas on July 17, 2010 at 11:17 am. #

BRILLIANT! Really. The part of making us all ‘law-breakers’ is the best one :)
I have another question though- How do you decide whose crossing the line? That becomes another avenue of harrassment.

by Neelakshi on July 18, 2010 at 1:20 am. #

The law is nothing but a pretence. They’d be retarded to expect little kids calling up the police and complaining against their own parents or teachers. A much better way that already exists in some places is to simply have a no-hitting policy implemented in all schools and have the offending staff member punished by the school itself. Most cases would be of something like a slap or a ruler to the wrist… practices long engrained in the schooling system. Even if they’re undesirable acts jail time is a completely disproportionate punishment. More serious cases are taken care of as it is, the offender can be booked under half a dozen other laws I’m sure. Schools are constantly under govt scrutiny anyway
As for homes as you said monitoring is absolutely impossible. There’s a difference between a slap on the face and domestic violence.. domestic violence is a crime as it is; and no one will bother with legal processes for small little things
If you ask me the law has been “piloted” simply to show a good face to the ever-growing diaspora of people campaigning for utopian schools and society in general..
You nailed it on the head when you said that they’re avoiding the required social reforms by announcing a useless law

by Pritish on July 18, 2010 at 2:33 am. #

@Neelakshi: Thanks! Pritish has got it absolutely right – it is nothing but another law meant to be exhibited [especially at international fora] and not really meant to be implemented.

I love how open hypocrisy is coming to rule the roost even at the top of the pyramid [that is at Central Government level].

@ Pritish: thanks for a thoughtful post. The last two sentences are absolutely crucial. And don’t we see this tendency everywhere around us? Not only in the various examples I have cited in the post but even on something as important as affirmative action – nobody has any verified data, they don’t want audits, they don’t want to listen to alternatives, just so that the government is “seen” to do something and the NGO-waadis/social scientists/civil society can alleviate the sense of guilt engendered by their own privileged status.

by Ritwik Agrawal on July 18, 2010 at 4:02 am. #

The law shows nothing. Not even a good face. Most parents are going to be wringing their hands in despair, wondering how the Government expects them to discipline their children now. As Pritish pointed out, a slap is different from abuse. this is just to give proof of how productive we have been. Because real issues are waaay too much hardwork to focus on.

by Neelakshi on July 18, 2010 at 3:02 pm. #

Yet another impulsive act!

Unfortunately, as is rightly pointed out in the blog, such laws seem to be more misused than used. They benefit only police, lawyers and those who judge them.

A victim of a well meaning but carelessly drafted, and also vague, anti- dowry/ dowry death law was blunt in saying as to why a draconian laws take so long to be modified, if at all. This is because many sacred cows stand to benefit from them. Common man can’t fight those powerful institutions.

Whenever law tries to operate inside the precincts of homes, the observations are unclear and judgement becomes difficult. I don’t know if usual court is the right help. May be something like family courts consisting of senstive, experienced and positive counsellors will be help where mediators don’t stand to gain financially by enhancing the divide. Legal interference in matters where sentiments and emotions are more important than law, may do irreversible damage.

None of us claims to be 100% leaglly correct in everyday dealing at home e.g. in terms of equi- distribution that is equal (rather than appropriate to their age and activities) food to all children, equal care (rather than need- driven) and so on. There is always overstepping some times and keeping short on others but they all average out to be fair to all usually.

The legal interference is certainly desired in some extreme cases of corporal punishment but police would be the last to be a right judge.

The blogger has raised a very valid point.

by C. Mohan on July 21, 2010 at 12:00 am. #

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