Till 1976 India used to be a sovereign republic. That wasn’t good enough. Today India is a sovereign, socialist and secular republic. Much better. But how many Indians would know this? I would say about 12 out of every 100.
How many of those 12 Indians would know what the words “sovereign”, “socialist”, “secular” and “republic” actually mean? I would be surprised if more than one does.
If producing legislation alone produced civilized societies, India would be the envy of the world.
For writing up rules and definitions, our lawmakers have an enthusiasm matching Plato’s. The Athenian wrote two tomes on what a society should legislate: The Republic and Laws. He was preceded by two others, Solon, the lawgiver who gifted Athens democracy, and Draco, from whose tough laws we get the word Draconian. Plato examined and modified their work, and after writing his two works he then stopped.
No danger of any end to writing new laws in India.
Let’s examine our Constitution as we would an edifice. By its dimensions.
The US constitution is 4,400 words long. The index of the Indian Constitution alone, alerting readers what is to be found where, is 5,022 words. The rest of it, excluding the index, is 249 pages in the version I own, published by the “Vidhi, Nyay aur Kampani Karya Mantralay” in 1991.
It is a great work, if by great is meant size. Where can we find what is the salary of the comptroller and auditor general of India? Why, in the Constitution, of course.
Mind you, despite such epic attention to detail, our society is still governed by the same laws as Macaulay, our Solon, gave us in 1860. The districting of our states is the same pattern as Sher Shah Suri’s in the 1530s. The administrative and reporting process of government is the one inherited from the Peshwas of the 1790s.
And how different, really, is our Constitution in spirit from the British Government of India Acts?
Not very different. Nor actually is India very different from the India of 500 years ago, and the peasant still kills his daughter for falling in love.
But we sally forth to create the new India through new laws alone.
On 11 October, the Union cabinet “chaired by the prime minister approved amendments to the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act”.
“The amendments broaden the scope of the law to cover the audio-visual media and material in electronic form.”
To the millions of Indian and foreign women fondled and touched in public by our men, fear not. Our government will protect you from spam and email forwards and MMS clips that have sex in them.
The Union cabinet says “this would aid in addressing the problem of increased objectification of women thereby ensuring dignity of women.”
No, it won’t.
And anyway, Union cabinet, we already have laws against obscenity, against pornography and against spam.
In fact we also already have a law from this very cabinet that covers what the cabinet spent time discussing on 11 October. Let me illustrate our imbecility as a nation with this example.
The Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 amends section 67 of the original Act. It reads:
“67. Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form, any material which is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect is such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it, shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and with fine which may extend to five lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees.”
All covered? There’s more.
“67A. Whoever publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the electronic form any material which contains sexually explicit act or conduct shall be punished on first conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years and with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees and in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years and also with fine which may extend to ten lakh rupees.”
66E(c) tells us helpfully what body parts may not be sent in an MMS or email: “Private area means the naked or undergarment clad genitals, public area, buttocks or female breast.”
The words “public area” are not a mistake here. This is how it appears in the published gazette of a government that clearly doesn’t know its ass from its elbow.
The idea of national improvement through legislation has taken over the political imagination.
We have laws for killing, but we must have a new one for honour killing because Congress leader Girija Vyas believes that will solve it.
We have more laws and bodies for corruption (Anti Corruption Bureau, chief vigilance commissioner, Lokayukta, the RTI) than any civilized nation but if we get Arvind Kejriwal’s Lokpal, we will solve the thing.
We cannot convict, arrest or even trace the majority of India’s rapists but making the penalty death will end rape, according to BJP leader L.K. Advani.
Such escapism from reality cannot be produced by meditation alone. What are these people on? I want some of that stuff.
And know this, Union cabinet: Reform means deleting laws, not adding more to the book.
Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist.
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Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns