To restrict freedom in the many ways that Victorian laws and practices in India have done to the present time is a travesty of the ideals of the freedom movement.

 

Four years after the Delhi High Court ruled in 2009 that the Victorian-era law against same-sex consensual adult male relationships were violative of Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India, the Supreme Court in 2013 overturned the HC verdict which brought that aspect of Indian law into the 20th century. The SC returned it to the 19th, which incidentally is the period that several of the laws and administrative practices of the “world’s most populous democracy” still reflect. Indications are that the Court may return Section 377 to where the Delhi High Court had left it, the oblivion merited by such 19th century enactments in the 21st century. Hopefully, IPC Section 497 dealing with the criminalisation of adultery will soon follow Section 377 into legal history, rather than remain in current practice. The Supreme Court is presently deciding on a petition asking for not merely retaining, but expanding the 157-year law which criminalises a male having sexual relations with a married female. The petitioner sees it as catastrophic if such an activity gets carried out, oblivious to the fact that they take place in multiple locations in India every day without causing any visible signs of social collapse. The petitioner probably believes that Section 497 should be changed, not by abolishing it but by increasing the punishment for adultery from five to ten years of imprisonment. Both in the Victorian era in the UK as well as in present-day India, jail is the preferred option for an extraordinarily large number of designated crimes. As mentioned by this columnist earlier, one reason why Norway is so much “less corrupt” than India is because 90% of what gets defined and punished as crimes in India are regarded as non-criminal in a modern country that moved smoothly (at least since 1945) into the accepted mindsets of the 20th as well as (later) the 21st century in a manner that India has yet to match.

There are other green shoots denoting a 21st century mindset that are recently appearing in India, among them being the re-affirmation of “Net Neutrality” by TRAI, in contrast to its junking in the US. Even more amazingly, the Finance Ministry has raised the limit for filing appeals in appellate tribunals from Rs 10 to Rs 20 lakh. The ministry has also raised the limit when an appeal will be made in a High Court to Rs 50 lakh rather than Rs 20 lakh, and in the Supreme Court from Rs 20 lakh to Rs 1 crore. The limits ought to have been raised at least five times more, given the depreciation in the value of the rupee over the decades as a consequence of mismanagement by North Block, but even such small adjustments represent progress. Hopefully, income limits for tax slabs will soon get raised substantially from the present unreasonably low slabs. Just check the benefits a taxpayer in Sweden or Canada gets from the state when compared to the persistent corruption, potholed roads, irregular power, pathetic public hospitals and the lawlessness and disorder that form part of the benefits offered to taxpayers in our country. Robert Clive as resident in-charge of the East India Company created a machinery designed solely to collect, collect and collect whatever could be gouged out of the natives, and much the same “take out as much money as you can from every citizen” mindset prevails. If only efficiency and integrity were given the same priority by a bureaucracy still to wake up and realise that most of the population of India has left Queen Victoria’s era far behind and are eager for the country to move into the 21st century. Amazingly, even Saint Nitish in Patna seems to be feeling the breeze of change in public attitudes. The Chief Minister of Bihar thought that enforcing Prohibition throughout his unfortunate state would cement his halo into place. To add spice to a measure that is globally regarded as antediluvian, Nitish Kumar got passed a law that is much too harsh to be described as merely “draconian”, with even houses and other properties (besides of course personal liberty) of those imbibing a glass of beer or wine getting seized by the CM. Saint Nitish seems to have awoken to the fact that voters don’t place value in such gimmicks, but in substantive performance, an attribute such “saintly” gestures as Prohibition will adversely impact, given that criminal mafias feast on such laws, as they did in Haryana when Bansi Lal made the same error as Saint Nitish.

It is shaming to read that women form a lower percentage of the workforce in India than in any other G20 member bar Saudi Arabia. It is a symptom of the thoroughness with which Sonia Gandhi pampered Wahhabism during 2004-2014 that the abaya is proliferating at accelerating speed in India exactly when that dress is on the cusp of decline in Saudi Arabia, thanks to Crown Prince Mohammad’s necessary reforms. Of course, in nearby Iran, the clerical ruling class has wholly misconstrued the modernism and acceptability of new ideas that were the characteristics of the everyday life of Prophet Mohammad, who married and lived happily with a woman much older than he was, and even worked cheerfully as her employee for a while. Then or later the Prophet placed no restrictions on his spouse going around in the vehicle of that period, a camel. Given this, it is a grotesque misreading of Islam that in Saudi Arabia, Wahhabis till now prevented women from driving a car in the name of the faith revealed by Prophet Mohammad. As was repeatedly chanted during the struggle against the British colonial authorities, freedom is the birthright of all humanity. To restrict this freedom in the many ways that Victorian laws and practices in India have done to the present time is a travesty of the ideals of the freedom movement. Hopefully, a Supreme Court soon to be headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi will lead the way to the 21st century by ensuring that the governance system roots itself in this century rather than remain in the 19th. After a long while, hope is returning of such a miracle taking place.

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