"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
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
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,
- Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India,
- Lata Singh v. State of U. P.,
- Raja Lal Singh v. State of Jharkhand,
- 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:
- Shayara Bano vs Union of India (2017)
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.
As the data shows, the law has played a significant role in bringing about
change in society.
- 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.
- Vishaka & Ors. Vs State of Rajasthan :
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
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
- 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.
- 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. 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. 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 & 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
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)..
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
- China has also managed to moderate its population growth through
legislation, allowing it to devote more resources to economic development
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.
- 1992 Supp. (3) SCC 217)
- (1997) 10 SCC 549
- 2006 5 SCC 475
- 2007 SCC Online SC 648
- 2017 SCC Online SC 963
- (1997) 6 SCC 241
- 2018 10 SCC 1
- (2014) 5 SCC 438