History is full of examples where laws have been used to bring about changes in society. Laws have been created to achieve desired goals. It is not only articulates but also sets the course for major social changes. In fact attempted social change through law is an important feature of the modern world. This is visible in almost all developed and developing societies.
The changes that have occurred with the transformation of Western capitalist societies and the emergence of Soviet type societies have essentially been through laws. For example, the Soviet Union and several east European counties have successfully made large scale social changes through laws. Income redistribution, nationalization of industries, land reforms and provision of free education are examples of the effectiveness of law to initiate change.
- A distinction is made between direct and indirect aspects of law in social change. In many cases law interacts directly with social institutions and brings about obvious changes. For instance, a law prohibiting polygamy has a direct influence on society. It alters the behaviour of individuals.
- On the other hand, laws play an indirect role also by shaping various social institutions which in turn have a direct impact of society. The most appropriate example is the system of compulsory education which enables the functioning of educational institutions, which in turn leads of social change.
- However, such a distinction is not absolute but a relative one. Sometime, emphasis is on the direct aspect and less on the indirect impact of social change, while in other cases the opposite may be true.
There is another way of examining the role of law in social change.
- Law redefines the normative order and creates the possibility of new forms of social institutions. It provides formal facilities and extends rights to Individuals. In India, for example, law against untouchability has not only prohibited the inhuman practice but has also given formal rights to those who suffered from such disabilities to protest against it. In this sense, law not only codifies certain customs and morals, but also modifies the behaviour and values existing in a particular society.
- Thus, law entails two interrelated processes: the institutionalization and the internalization of patterns of behaviour. Institutionalization of a pattern of behaviour means the creation of norms with provisions for its enforcement. Internalization of patterns of behaviour, on the other hand means the incorporation and acceptance of values implicit in a law.When the institutionalization process is successful it in turn facilitates the internalization of attitudes and beliefs.
In ancient India, no universal legal system based on the principle of equality existed In ancient India there was a close connection between law and religion. A rule of law was not different from a rule of religion. It was maintained that all laws were contained in the Dharmashastra. The legal system was primarily based on the social position of castes and classes. No uniform standards were applied in providing justice to people. There was no uniform legal norm at an all-India level. Local customs and regional practices defined and determined these norms.Another important feature of the ancient legal system was its orientation towards the group. Legal norm applied more to the group as an unit rather than to the individual This characteristic of legal system continued even during the medieval period.
During the British rule radical transformation took place in the legal and judicial systems of the country. The British introduced numerous changes in the traditional legal system.The new legal system was based on the principle of universalism. The notion of equality before law was recognized and received legal sanction. Law courts were established at different levels. The enactment of the Indian Penal Code and the Codes of Civil and Criminal Procedure produced a strong system of judicial administration. This legal system was, however, not confined to criminal justice alone. It even brought domestic and personal life of the people under its purview. Several social legislations came into operation which covered areas like collective bargaining, and employment contract A continuous rationalization of law was introduced by codification of customary law. It increased the separation of law from religion.
Moreover, some legislation in relation to prevailing conservative and orthodox social practices were also passed during the colonial period which acted towards social reform. Indian society in the nineteenth century was under the grip of inhuman customs and practices. Untouchability was practiced throughout the country. The position of women was most degrading. Child marriage, widowhood and the cruel practice of sati put women to life long misery and humiliation. These inhuman practices were, however, challenged by social reformers and the British Indian Government responded by enacting several social legislations.
- The practice of sati (widow burning) was declared illegal in 1829.
- The Hindu Widow Remarriage Act of 1856 legalized the remarriage of the Hindu widows.
- When the members of the Brahmo Samaj in Bengal started facing problem in marriage, a Native Marriage Act was passed in 1872.The Brahmos claimed that they did not belong to any religious groups in India. This Act worked like a civil marriage law under which people outside any religious fold could marry.
- Another important legislation linked with marriage was the Age of Consent Act of 1891. The Act prohibited the performance of marriage for girls below the age of twelve.
- During the closing years of the nineteenth century, besides personal laws, several other laws relating to land and industry were also enacted.
- The Factory Act of 1881 addressed the issue of the welfare of factory workers.
- The Bengal Tenancy Act of 1885 introduced reforms in land tenure system.
- The Press Act of 1878 was a landmark in the field of mass communication.
- These legislations not only advanced the cause of cultural change but also contributed towards transformation of the agrarian structure.
The nature and extent of social change in India has been influenced largely by radical social legislation introduced after the independence. They pertain to subjects ranging from economy, policy, family and inheritance. Legislations impact upon every aspect of people’s lives. The number of legislation enacted after the independence is, however, so large that all of them cannot be discussed here. Therefore, we have selected only some important legislations to highlight their role in social change.
- Laws have been passed to eradicate social evils. Under Article 17 of the Indian Constitution, untouchability is prohibited and its practice in any form is made punishable. A comprehensive legislation called the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955 was passed later. This Act was further amended as the Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976. According to this Act, an untouchable (Scheduled Caste) has access to all public places including places of worship. Though this legislation has not been fully able to eradicate the practice of untouchability, it has definitely attacked caste prejudice.
- Similarly, a number of laws have been enacted for the upliftment of women and children. These Acts have brought about a perceptible improvement in their position in society. The Special Marriage Act of 1954, the Hindu Marriage Act of1955, the Hindu Succession Act of 1956and the Dowry Prohibition Act of1956 and the Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 have initiated changes in the very structure of Hindu society.
- Most of these legislations have further been amended to accommodate more radical and relevant issues. For example, the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 was amended in 1976 to provide the right to girl to deny marriage before attaining puberty. In fact the original Act itself was radical because it enforces monogamy and permitted divorce among the Hindus. The Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961 was also amended in 1984 that made cruelty towards women a cognizable offence.
- The socio-economic changes that have been brought about through legislations have crated a favourable situation regarding the status of women.
- A number of legislations have also been passed to safeguard and protect the rights of children.Some of them are the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation Act, 1986, the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Protection) Act, 1996, the Juvenile justice Act, 2000 and so on.
- The role of legislation in transforming the socio-economic condition of tribals even more explicit We may throw light on this issue by citing the example of north-eastern India, which is home to a large number of tribals. The tribal communities of this region have experienced remarkable changes in their traditional economy, cultural life and political systems.
- • The safeguards provided to tribals in the states of Assam. Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India have facilitated numerous programmes for administration development.
- Special provisions under Article 371A of the Constitution have been made for the State of Nagaland to safeguard the cultural identity of the Nagas. The State Governments have passed several legislation which have ushered changes along with preserving their identity.
- The Autonomous District Councils established under the provisions of the Sixth Schedule have been given wide power to maintain control over the tribal land The Land Transfer Act of 1971passed by the Meghalaya State Legislature has almost stopped the process of land alienation.
- Likewise, the Lushei Hills District (Acquisition of Chief ‘s Right) Act, 1954 abolished the age-old system of chieftainship among the Mizos as the people themselves demanded it.
The Constitution of India aimed at securing justice liberty and equality to all to constitute the country into a socialist, secular and democratic republic to.
- Provide rule of law
- Acc to DPSP enshrined in the commit-state assumed the responsibility of securing adequate means and likelihood to all its times – A proper distribution of the material resources – Preventing concentration of wealth to the common detriment The aim is to build up a social order which stands for welfare of all sections of society.
- The resonances of these commitments employing removal of poverty has permeated into all the Five Year Plans in a tacit or categorical term.
- Concludingly we can say that, in a democratic state like ours, legislation can be effectively used as an interment of social change.