by Mihir Sharma
If there’s one thing the Indian government likes to refer to, it’s “decolonization”. Delivering his annual Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Delhi’s historic Red Fort earlier this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed his time in power as a liberation from “thousands of years” of slavery to external powers, and pointed out how he was doing. The foundation of a thousand-year-old state that would “return” India to its previous golden age.
Ironically, given the Mughal history of the fort from which he delivered the speech, Modi’s vocabulary links together the first decades of Indian independence, the few hundred years of the British Raj and the long period of existence of Islam in the nation. This was interpreted to mean that the Muslims of India were part of its colonial burden, no different from the laws and language left behind by the British. It also implied that India’s governments before Modi took office in 2014 were involved in perpetuating foreign influence through the education system and forms of governance. In other words, the present government will be the first government in the history of the country to actually break the shackles of colonialism.
This is not just rhetoric. An example of how colonialism is being put into practice was provided to us on 11 August itself. Without any consultation – or, indeed, without any word that he was working on it – Amit Shah, Modi’s most trusted lieutenant and home affairs minister, introduced three new laws in the final hours of the monsoon session of Parliament. Did it
These were given sweet names in the complex, Sanskrit-influenced official Hindi preferred by India’s ruling elite; And they were intended to replace the three codes that had for more than a century governed how criminals were charged, what constituted a criminal offense and how evidence was handled. Shah argued that “the laws to be repealed were made to strengthen and protect the British” and that their replacement would be the “Indian spirit and ethos” that would free us from “mental slavery” to the Raj.
The symbolism was clear at the conclusion of the celebration of the first 75 years as an independent nation. For example, the Indian Penal Code was partly drafted by the writer and bureaucrat Thomas Babington Macaulay, who was famous for his advocacy of English-language education in India, and to name it differently from English would doubtless make sense to any sane person. source of satisfaction for From what Macaulay said or wrote in the 1830s.
However, the deeper question is whether the purpose of these new laws is anything other than ending colonialism. I am sure a lot needs to change to bring Indian criminal law into the 21st century. And no doubt some big changes will be buried in the small print: for example, lawyers are already considering new punishments for “endangering the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India”. But many fear the new laws largely borrow the language of the old, while adding a layer of ambiguity to the freshest offenses that will reduce rather than enhance personal liberty.
Without a doubt, it is the weakness of the government to introduce massive new changes in the country without considering how they will be implemented. This was most visible in the sudden move to withdraw 86% of India’s currency from circulation in 2016. There is also an element of that failure in this decision.
It may be theoretically good to replace 19th century laws with new laws – except the criminal codes are, in a sense, living laws. They have been amended, interpreted and reinterpreted over the decades by legislators, police and judges. Major changes have been introduced in the past, mostly after expert commissions and hearings and months of public debate. Each of these has taken a while, sometimes years, to reach the thousands of overworked policemen and judges who have to use them every day. How is India’s crumbling law enforcement system supposed to re-learn everything in one go? It’s fair to worry that, once again, the country’s leaders are placing symbolism above common sense.
Even renaming the laws to Hindi might not be the best idea. The chief minister of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu – which, like many other Indian states, does not use Hindi as an official language – has already protested, claiming that the imposition of Hindi through these new laws is “an act of colonisation”. in the name”. decolonization.” It seems that not everyone in India agrees that we are on the threshold of a golden age of a thousand years.
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