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Illustrations Of Social Change Through Law

"You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." - Richard Buckminster Fuller

Law and social change
Change is the law of the nature. Social change is also natural. The term social change refers to a shift in existing social patterns. It also refers to change in social structure which contains social behaviour, social relations, social organizations etc. Law is a catalyst for modernization and social change.

The law's twofold objectives are to maintain stability and allow for orderly life in society and to persuade social change by adapting to the changing needs of society. Thus, law is an important social control tool.

Law changes the society
I believe law changes the society. When the law changes the society, it is a sign that the society is beginning to develop. One of the great virtues of law is that it adapts to changing societal needs and maintains stability when rapid changes disrupt social relations.

Many different methods can be used to bring about social change, such as launching social reform movements like those led by Swami Dayanand Saraswati, Mahatma Gandhi, B R Ambedkar, and other prominent thinkers. However, such efforts are not legally binding or have no legal effect. As a result, there is a pressing need to enact legislation, prescribing and implementing the necessary sanctions.

Illustrations of social change through law
When India broke free from colonialism in 1947, the challenges it faced were enormous. For legal aficionados, it was a big puzzle of disparate elements, a mix of customary law, case law, and a number of different enactments. The social system was equally perplexing, riddled by societal problems such as the child marriages, illiteracy, caste system, discrimination, and the dowry system, among others. It was necessary to create a set of laws that would govern each group of people individually as well as collectively.

Various cases and laws have been made to make changes such as:
  • Indra Sawhney v. Union of India[1],
  •  Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India[2],
  • Lata Singh v. State of U. P.[3],
  • Raja Lal Singh v. State of Jharkhand[4],
  • Roop Kanwar Case, Untouchability Offences Act 1955.

In the following paragraph, we can look at some popular cases, rights, acts and other examples which helped to bring change in society:
  1. Shayara Bano vs Union of India (2017)[5]
    The case is regarded as a legal watershed moment in the fight for Muslim women's rights. In the Shayara Bano case, the Supreme Court invalidated the practice of instant Triple Talaq:
    • The practice of instant Triple Talaq was very common among Muslim couples. There have been numerous instances where women have been granted divorce via Facebook or WhatsApp chats. That was causing serious problems in society. It was a violation of women's fundamental rights.
    • I believe the Shayra Bano case and the subsequent Muslim Women (Protection of rights on marriage) Act, 2019 was instrumental in bringing about social change. Because there were so many cases demonstrating how common instant Triple Talaq was in society, it was the supreme court's judgment that helped to reduce the number of cases of instant Triple Talaq. From 1985 to 2019, 3,82,964 cases of instant divorce were reported, averaging 11, 264 cases per year. From 2019 to 2020 only 1,039 incidents of Triple Talaq have been reported in the country[6].

      As the data shows, the law has played a significant role in bringing about change in society.
  2. Removal of Right to property as a fundamental right:
    The right to property, which was previously regarded as a fundamental right, was later elevated to a legal and constitutional status. The main goal of this removal was to blur the lines between rich and poor people.
    • Following independence, the mood was to abolish Zamindari and other rural intermediaries who had gained rights to vast swaths of land under colonial rule. When the government attempted to abolish these institutions, it was challenged in court under the Constitution's Right to Property clause in a series of cases. As a result, the government decided to revoke article 19(f).
    • So, there were many differences in society, and rich zammidars used to exploit poor farmers and labourers, but the removal of the right to property as a fundamental right brought social change by providing relief and equality to poor farmers. As a result, it contributes to the reduction of societal inequality. For the sake of the people, I believe the government should have the upper hand on property rights for the public good and greater good than the individual good to maintain balance in the society. Therefore, we can say that law is required to control and run society; otherwise, there will be chaos in the society.
  3. Vishaka & Ors. Vs State of Rajasthan [7]:
    The Vishakha guidelines are a set of guidelines established by the Supreme Court of India to ensure the safety of women at work and to establish guidelines for dealing with cases of sexual harassment at work. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Work (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redress) Act, 2013 [POSH Act] has now replaced the Vishaka guidelines.
    • In almost every aspect of life, women are subjected to harassment, molestation, and assault. Even when they are at home, they are victims of atrocities. Women face a variety of issues and harassment at work, and one of the negative consequences of these cases is that it discourages women from working and lowers their confidence.
    • However, I believe it has made a significant contribution to ensuring a safe working environment for women and increasing their confidence in making complaints without hesitation by providing two types of complaint mechanisms, one of which requires the formation of an internal committee and the other of which requires the formation of a local committee by the district officer[8].

      Though there are still many cases of this type of exploitation, because of the act more and more women are now coming forward to register the cases which is a step toward getting them justice. Exploitation occurred in the past and continues to do so now, but I believe the law has changed to the point where women are now coming forward to file complaints, as we saw during the 'me too movement'[9].
  4. Right to education act, 2009
    The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, was enacted as a follow-up legislation to the vision envisioned under Article 20,

    21-A, which was enshrined in the Indian Constitution by the Constitution (86th Amendment) Act of 2002.
    • The RTE Act was a defining moment for the government, ensuring that every child has the right to a quality and equitable elementary education in a formal school that meets the Act's requirements.
    • India's education sector witnessed enormous progress in terms of an increase in the number of institutions, rise in enrolments for primary and secondary education, increase in the enrolment of girls and students belonging to the weaker sections of the society and growth in the number of teachers and teacher training institutes since the amendment.

      Movements like 'Sarvshiksha Abhiyan' and its subordinate schemes, such as the midday meal, encouraged children to attend school. It also brought about social change because it allowed even those who were not financially secure to provide their children with a good education.

      The government is now enforcing this through legislation. As education plays an important role in society's development, the government also offers a variety of scholarship programmes that assist a large number of students in achieving their goals and improving their quality of life.
  5. Abolition of section 377 of IPC
    Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, to the extent that it criminalized same-sex relationships between consenting adults, was unanimously struck down by the supreme court of India in Navtej Singh Johar vs. U.O.I.[10] Individuals who identify as LGBTQ are now legally permitted to engage in consensual intercourse.
    • Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender people are victims of "pervasive violent abuse, harassment, and discrimination" in all regions of the world, according to a 2015 United Nations human rights report, which cites hundreds of hate-related killings.[11] India is of no exception LGBTQ community still has to face a lot of shaming, violence and harassment.
    • This is a very strong example of how the law is responsible for the change in society, not the other way around. A lot of people still have orthodox views of the LGBTQ community, but the law (NALSA judgment[12] & revocation of section 377 of IPC) and the constitution protect them now; if society changed the law, it would be impossible to protect the LGBTQ community; thus, it is not necessary for society to make laws based on their own interpretations and perceptions of things; rather, it is the law that protects everyone equally.

      Even if people do not accept them, they can do nothing about it right now, so the next generation and society will gradually understand that laws have been made that are above all prejudices and discrimination and they will hopefully gradually bring the change.

International Perspective
The United Nations has played a significant role in bringing about change on a global scale. Over the years, the United Nations has helped to protect human rights, women's rights, and children's rights by bringing more than 500 multilateral treaties into force, such as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).[13].

It also aided in the protection of many developing and underdeveloped countries' rights in various ways. It aided in the implementation of change in various counties' legal systems, resulting in a shift in society's situation.

Some examples of how the law shapes society in other countries:
  • Through the use of law, the Soviet Union was able to bring about massive changes in society.
  • Law was used in Spain to reform agrarian labour and employment relationships.
  • China has also managed to moderate its population growth through legislation, allowing it to devote more resources to economic development and modernization.[14]

As law governs almost every activity that happens in society even the basic activities the law can be frequently used as a tool for social reform. I believe making a law can bring about psychological changes in people's minds, which will eventually help change society as a whole. As a result of legal decisions aimed at changing the system, a wave of positive social change is triggered. People become aware of their duties and obligations as a result of the law's use of force and the exploitation of people has been curbed through law.

I believe, social problems are interconnected rather than being isolated. People should be proponents of radical viewpoints that are both physiologically and politically justifiable, and that are consistent with values such as dignity, autonomy, equality, and justice and these social problems can be tacked through law. Legislation has the ability to sway societal change.

  1. 1992 Supp. (3) SCC 217)
  2. (1997) 10 SCC 549
  3. 2006 5 SCC 475
  4. 2007 SCC Online SC 648
  5. 2017 SCC Online SC 963
  7. (1997) 6 SCC 241
  10. 2018 10 SCC 1
  12. (2014) 5 SCC 438

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