Indian Legal Code Needs Revision

President Pranab Mukherjee has recently drawn attention to the fact that over the past 155 years very few changes have been made to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the main criminal code of India. He has made a valid point regarding the need to revise and make changes in the IPC in keeping with the need of the present time. He has made these observations at a time when debates and discussions are taking place over constitutional definitions and legal explanations of certain terms. In addition to IPC, it is time greater attention is paid to legally elaborating on terms, which bear the risk of being misinterpreted and abused. Heading this list is the definition of “terrorism”. To date, members of the United Nations have failed to reach any agreement on a mutually acceptable legal definition of terrorism. Unfortunately, this legal lapse has contributed to terrorism being quite commonly linked with Islam and Muslims. The ease with which the term Islamist terrorist is being used in the West supports this point. The same trend has begun gaining ground in India.

Linking terrorism primarily with Islam and Muslims can hardly be expected to help end this menace. This trend has, however, increased the stereotyped, prejudiced notion of viewing Muslims with suspicion and linking them with terrorism, without any substantial evidence. It is time it was legally laid out that terrorism is not linked with any religion. Yes, certain militants may claim that their religion supports their militant ideology and actions. But, how can claims made by any criminal individual or outfit be readily accepted by keepers of law?

Certainly, the Indian Constitution permits religious freedom but this does not include its misuse and abuse. It should be laid out in detail that religious freedom does not extend to deprive others of their religious right, target them primarily because of their religious identity or abuse this freedom and right in any other manner. Unfortunately, there also prevails the tendency to deliberately exploit this lapse by targeting Muslims. There have also been cases when a few non-Muslims have hidden their real identity, tried appearing as “Muslims” and indulged in activities harming religious sentiments of non-Muslims with their intention apparently being to provoke anti-Muslim communal riots.

Now and then, a lot of noise is made over definition of terms such as patriotism and nationalism. Howsoever patriotic and nationalist an Indian may be, he/she cannot be expected to display the same always. It may be pointed out that there prevails an unhealthy trend among certain sections of questioning patriotism/nationalism of Indian Muslims. There is urgent need of legal measures that may be used to check these negative practices. The Indian Muslims are an essential part of this country. Each time they are needlessly and/or deliberately attacked/targeted, the persons indulging in this practice are also damaging their own nationalist/patriotic leanings.
Constitutionally, India has been defined as a Sovereign, Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic. All citizens have equal rights, including their right to speak and religious freedom. Speculations are, however, being voiced on when can the right and freedom to speak raise questions about one’s nationalism and patriotism? And when can a speaker be blamed for indulging in terrorism and/or sedition? It certainly is not fair that some citizens should associate their national/patriotic duty with the task of questioning as well as attacking the same inclinations of others. Besides, patriotism and nationalism include a sense of responsibility in carrying out national duties, including respect for the country’s Constitution and so forth. Whenever groups of people deliberately target minorities, because of their religion, caste, class, poverty or any other factor, they only hit at the country’s secularism and also socialism. These actions from no angle have contributed to their displaying or promoting their nationalism as well as patriotism. The same may also be said about the damage caused by violent activities engaged in by aggressive demonstrators. Incidentally, the limited importance being paid to this aspect indirectly exposes a weakness in the legal set up that has over a period of time only encouraged aggressive groups and individuals to damage property. The damage caused recently by demonstrators in Haryana illustrates this hard reality.

The range of activities that can spell damage for the nation at numerous levels is extremely extensive. It is well known that national damage is caused by those who do not pay their income tax, those who throw litter on the road or other places, and similar such activities. Yet, it would not be absolutely correct to judge their patriotic and nationalist sentiments by such activities or view them as terrorists and/or seditious. Considering that quite a few citizens tend to impose their understanding of nationalism, patriotism and also terrorism as well as sedition on others, it is time these concepts were explained legally in detail. Till limitations prevail, the tendency to misuse and even abuse sensitive legal terms prevails. This weakness has been frequently exposed. It is time greater attention was paid to correcting the same.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 March 2016 on page no. 11

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