By Avadhoot Potnis, Chair of Academics, South Asia Executive Board
India is the land of organized, orchestrated chaos. Its multifarious angles, inherent contradictions, and a penchant for bypassing the establishment in the name of ‘Jugaad’ make the ever-present even more bolder.
In this context, for a proper functioning society, a sound and coherent legal system are imperative. Although, most of the problems which we see in our daily lives are caused by a misapplication of law, rather than by the absurdity of law themselves.
But, due to some artifacts of our colonial past, and some mind-boggling reasoning of our very efficient legislature, their vigor and enthusiasm (or perhaps the lack of it), we are left with some very absurd laws.
Their absurdity lies in the fact that they are extremely disconnected to reality; they profess things which are either of an era gone by or are completely preposterous. Our hardworking and young parliament still continues to see some value in having them, and we are no one to question their infallible judgment.
All we can do is glance at these gem of laws and try to understand or perhaps laugh at the face of such absurdity.
For the longest period of time, attempting to commit suicide could land you in jail. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalized attempts to suicide and made it punishable. So that if you fail, you have another reason to kill yourself. However, now, the section is effectively overturned by the Mental Health Care Bill. The government is also in process of deleting this section from the IPC.
There is no uniform legal drinking age in India. Since alcohol, and matters relating to it thereof come under the state governments, each state has its own drinking age, which varies from 18 in Goa to 25 in Maharashtra. Effectively, you can get married before you can legally enjoy a drink in public (let that sink in!) Adding to the confusion, is the fact that the legal age for hard liquor like whiskey, vodka etc is different from beverages like beer and wine. (Go figure!)
Section 377 of the IPC makes consensual sex between two people of the same sex illegal. The provision also criminalizes consensual sexual acts like fellatio. This has been one of the most widely debated laws in public spheres, in recent times. However, after the recent judgment by the Supreme Court of India on Privacy, it is widely speculated that the days of this archaic law are nearing its end.
A woman in India cannot be punished for adultery. Even if she initiated the sexual act and/or consented to it, she will not be held liable. But the man she engaged with will be, even when both have equally contributed towards the act of adultery. We are still about a decade away from recognizing women as human beings who are sexually active, and can make sexual choices for themselves. (maybe even a century?)
Till date, the Indian Post Office maintains a legal monopoly on all posts. Private courier services exist, but they bypass the law by calling their posts as ‘documents’.
According to The Aircraft Act of 1934, kites and balloons come under the definition of Aircraft. So legally, you need a license to fly kites and negligent flying of kites could lead to criminal prosecution.
If you live in Delhi, under the 1949 East Punjab Agricultural Pests, Diseases and Noxious Weeds Act, any man who is above the age of 14 and considered fit, can be ordered by the government to fight locusts. The act goes further, he can be summoned by just beating drums, and nonperformance of this obligation will be a contravention of the law.
All the 7 laws mentioned before these are downright stupid but are in some way or the other, non-functional. People have found a way around them and these do not affect people directly in their day to day life. However, the most absurd law is something which is taking a toll on our citizen’s life and liberty. This little act is called AFSPA – Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
Under this act, authorities can detain a person without any trial, or due process, for any amount of time, just on a mere suspicion. A person detained under AFSPA has no right to any legal remedy, nor is there any provision for compensation for wrongful detainment.
Lastly, authorities can use deadly force, main or even kill a person if he is suspected to be in contravention of the law. It is widely abused in areas where it is applicable. It’s unjust and absurd on the face of it, but downright draconian in practice.