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Understanding the law as a means of social change

Society, when we think about is in a natural state of equilibrium. It takes its own course with time. As people change, their mentality changes, the society as a whole is bound to change. Change also depends on factors like population growth, technological growth, changes in human settlement and many more. If a society doesn't grow with the parts it comprises of, it will face doom. A society like that is toxic, it makes people frustrated and at the end the society itself dies. Law should introduce its rationale in terms that are understandable and compatible with current principles.

We hear stories of man's rise and growth from the Paleolithic age to the Neolithic age, then to the Stone Age and next to the copper age etc. If we look at it, our society is a stage, as said by Shakespeare in his famous �All the world's a stage�. We turn liberal with time and age, as a human turns wise. The characters change, nothing stands still, we let out the old, and bring in the new. As a result, we grow.

It is said, �Today is not yesterday, we ourselves change. No change is permanent, it is subject to change[1]. This is observed in all spares of activity. Change indeed is painful, yet needful�. Through change, we get a chance to refresh and recreate. Individuals always endeavor for stability in life, yet the fact that for society, stillness is lethal, remains.

The society is guided by law in every aspect, the law surrounds us completely. Different schools of law have characterized law from various points. Some have characterized it based on its tendency. Some concentrate predominantly on its sources. Some characterize it regarding its impact on society. There are other people who characterize law regarding the end or reason for law. A definition which doesn't cover different parts of law will undoubtedly be imperfect.

Moreover, law is a social science and develops constantly with the development and improvement of society. New improvements in the public eye make new issues and law is needed to manage those issues. To stay up with society, the definition and extent of law should keep on evolving. The outcome is that a meaning of law given at a specific time can't stay perennial for all ages to come. A definition which is considered satisfactory today may be found narrow tomorrow.[2]

Social Order And Purpose Of Law

Social Change

Social change is the way social institutions are changed by change in human behaviour and interaction. The whole process of social change comes naturally. As new generations interact with each other more and more, our perception towards the world changes, and so changes our behaviour. The general trend suggests that with time, a society should become more accepting and liberal towards new things. Every person should be able to embrace their inner self.

As in all cases, exceptions exist here as well. Some people tend to reserve themselves, and pass this trait to their children and grandchildren. In this way, a part of the society may still remain conservative, but the majority of the population tends to grow forward.

Reasons For Social Change

Four common causes, as recognized by social scientists, are technology, social institutions, population, and the environment. All four of the mentioned areas can impact how and when society changes. And they are all interrelated: a change in one area can lead to changes throughout.
  1. Technology
    Technology is the use of scientific vigour to make tools that solve specific problems. Technological changes mould our lifestyles significantly, the invention of radio, television,computers and automobiles are some of the major instances that have brought change in our lifestyles. Because of the invention of a computer, because bill gates founded a company like Microsoft, and because this company brought in something like MS word, we are here making this project digitally, gone are the days when we submitted handwritten projects

    Advancement in technology has also resulted in the society being more transparent since all data is available on the servers making the system both easily accessible and transparent.
  2. Modernization
    Modernisation is the process where people from underdeveloped societies move into developed societies for their own welfare in search of opportunities like better jobs, better lifestyle and better infrastructure. This drastic change in living conditions leads to social change.
  3. Environment
    Slower changes in the environment can also have a large social impact. As noted earlier, one of the negative effects of industrialization has been the increase in pollution of air, water, and ground. Changes in the natural environment can also lead to changes in a society itself. We see vivid evidence of this when a major hurricane, an earthquake, or any other natural disaster strikes.
  4. Social conflict
    Episodes like war, ethnic conflicts, social movements for obvious reasons, disturb the status quo and the deaths of soldiers have caused harm and pain to not only their loved ones but also to the society as whole for ages and will do that for many more years to come.
  5. Law
    The law, through legislative and administrative responses to new social conditions and ideas, as well as through judicial re-interpretations of constitution, statutes or precedents, increasingly not only articulates but sets the course for major social change. Law plays an indirect role in changing the society by changing social institutions. For years, litigation has affected social change more than anything.

The change of Rome from republic to empire couldn't have been achieved if not by methods for unequivocal legal declaration buttressed by the doctrine of imperial sovereignty. Law, way behind from being an impression of social truth, is a ground-breaking tool to achieve reality � that is, of acknowledging it or making it.

Some examples of law shaping the society are:
  • The Soviet Union succeeded in making enormous changes in society by the use of law.
  • In Spain law was used to reform agrarian labor and employment relations.
  • China also managed to moderate through law its population growth and as a result devote more of its resources to economic development and modernization.[3]

India after its independence, framed laws to correct social order and prepare for being a welfare state. It aimed at achieving and exploitation free and equal society where caste did not define your opportunities, where all had an equal footing, where people lived in a closely knit society, where only your capabilities mattered and not the family you were born in. for this purpose, it enacted laws and regulations to maintain social order.

Law is the activity of subjecting human behaviour to the governance of rules. The rule of law is concerned with regulating the use of power. Whereas society is a spontaneous order, the state is a protective agent with the monopoly role of enforcing the rules of the game. Since the monopoly on coercion belongs to the government, it is imperative that this power not be misused. In a free society each person has a recognized private sphere, a protected realm which government authority cannot encroach upon. The purpose of law is to preserve the freedom and moral agency.

India is a country that represents diversity, so many people representing so many cultures living in an area of around 3.28mn square km of landmass, with all kinds of weather patterns and all kinds of geographical patterns, from mountains to beaches to deserts, we have got it all.

In 1947, when India freed itself from the hands of colonialism, the hurdles it faced were humongous. For legal enthusiasts, it was a puzzle of greatly different things , a mixture of customary law, case law, and a number of variegated enactments. The social system was equally confused, plagued with social evils like the caste system, discrimination against women, unsociability, child marriages, illiteracy, the dowry system etc.. What had to be done was to make a set of laws that govern each set of individuals individually, yet collectively.

Judiciary & Social Change

  • Composition & Hierarchy of Courts in India
    As defined by the constitution of India, India has adopted a federal form of government, meaning that the power to pass laws is divided between the center and the states. Nevertheless, the Constitution creates an integrated judicial structure consisting of courts for the execution of both federal and state laws. The Apex Court of India is the Supreme Court in New Delhi. In the states that obey the supreme court, there are diverse high courts. The High Courts are preceded by district and subordinate courts, known in India as the lower courts. There are specific tribunals to adjudicate sector-specific claims such as labor, consumer, service matter disputes, in order to complement the working of the courts.
  • The supreme court of India
    On 28 January 195o, India's Supreme Court came into being. In colonial times, it replaced both the Federal Court of India and the Privy Council's Judicial Committee, which were deemed apex courts. A Supreme Court with a Chief Justice and 7 judges was envisaged by the Constitution of India as it existed in 195o. The authority to raise the number of judges in the coming years has been given to the Parliament. At present, the Supreme Court's overall strength is 34 judges, including the Chief Justice as
  • High Courts
    India is composed of 24 High Courts at the rank of state and union territory. Each High Court has jurisdiction over a state, a union territory, or a collection of states and union territories.
  • District and Sub-ordinate Courts
    The courts operating below the High Courts are referred to as the lower courts. They are made up of district courts and subordinate courts. Every state is split into regions ruled by a 'District and Sessions Judge'. When he/she presides over a civil case he/she is known as a 'Sessions judge', when he/she presides over a criminal case, the judge is known as a 'District Judge.'. When she presides over a district court in a town that is classified by the state government as a metropolitan area, the district judge is sometimes called a 'Metropolitan Sessions Judge.'

Sources Of Law

The mother of law in India is the Constitution which, gives due acknowledgment to statutes, case law and custom law in line with its dispensations. Laws or rules are instituted by Parliament, State Legislatures and Union Territory Legislatures. There is likewise an immense assortment of laws known as subordinate enactment or rules, guidelines just as by-laws made by Central and State Governments and nearby authorities like Municipal Corporations, Municipalities, Gram Panchayats and other neighborhood bodies.

This subordinate enactment is made under the authority designated either by Parliament or State or Union Territory Legislature. The decisions of the Supreme Court are binding on all Courts inside the domain of India. As India is a place where there is diversity, various customs and conventions which are not against any rule, statute, and so on are somewhat recognised and considered by Courts while delivering judgements in specific spheres of nature.[4]

Disputes are bound to occur among persons, among groups, as well as between individuals or groups and authorities in each and every society. All such disputes have to be addressed in line with the expectations of the rule of law by an independent body. This definition of the rule of law means that the people are subject to the same law, poor and rich, man or woman, forward or backward castes.

Safeguarding the rule of law and maintaining the dominance of the law is the core element of the judiciary. It safeguards the individual's rights, resolves conflicts in compliance with the rules and assures that democracy does not give way to the hegemony of groups or individuals. In order to be able to do all this, it is necessary that the judiciary is independent of any political pressures.

In order to fulfill his duty, �the interest of society� must be the driving force for a judge while he sits. His responsibility to society is to satisfy the various social expectations of justice, order and security. While engaging with any issue, he must give the welfare of the society a prime feature. The strong interest of the judiciary in upholding the values of good governance is also expressed in remarks focusing on the rule of law, human rights, fundamental rights and gender justice, as well as recommendations and guidelines issued from time to time on topics ranging from police and prison reforms, democratic reforms, the uniform civil code, children's and women's rights, affirmative reforms in favor of the Dalit's and the deprived sections like the S/Cs, S/Ts and the OBCs to environmental jurisprudence that has given a new meaning to the right to life as well as reconciliation between development and protection of the ecology and environment. The strong involvement of the judiciary in the processes and practices of achieving the objectives of sustainable human development and establishing an enabling atmosphere is well established in many of the judicial judgments. The judiciary has not limited itself to interpreting only the law and the constitution in this pursuit.

Gender equality and justice
The concept of equality of status, opportunities and justice has been applied by the Indian judiciary when interpreting statues relevant to women's growth and empowerment. For example, in Gayatri Devi Panjari v. State of Orissa (AIR 2ooo Sc1531), the Orissa High Court upheld the government's policy of giving priority to women while allocating merit shops in addition to 3o percent observation for women in that regard.

The Court held that it could not be taken as a limit for any group and the government could still prefer women over men if there were reservations for women because the quota policy aims to ensure the minimum while the preference policy aims to promote the empowerment of people with disadvantages. In another case, the court extended the benefits of Maternity Benefits Act of 1961. Women, who make up almost half of our population, need to be honored and treated with respect wherever they work to earn their livelihood. Whatever the nature of their tasks, their occupation and the position where they work, all the facilities to which they are entitled must be given.

Backward Classes of the Society:
The Apex Court has developed the principle of 'creamy layer test' in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, AIR 1993 SUPREME COURT 477, to ensure the positive effects of social justice to the deprived class, needy people, and marginalized persons belonging to the creamy layer.

Bonded labourers
A good example of social ordering by means of judicial procedure is Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India, AIR 1984 S C 8o2. The Apex Court tried to eradicate the socio-economic evil of bonded labor, including child labor, and provided some guidelines to be followed in order to eliminate repeating such incidents.

Caste system and Judicial Process:
In Lata Singh v. State of U. P., AIR 2oo6 SC 2522, the Apex Court had provided protection to a major boy and a girl who had solemnized inter-caste or inter-religious marriage.

Dowry Death:
Dowry death is perhaps one of the worst social disorders prevailing in the society, which demands heavyhand of Judicial Process to root-out this social evil. In Raja Lal Singh v. State of Jharkhand, the Supreme Court has laid down that there is a clear nexus between the death of Gayatri and the dowry relatedharassment inflicted on her, therefore, even if Gayatri committed suicide, S. 3o4-B of the I. P. C. can still be attracted.[5]

Legislation & Social Change

Legislation is a mechanism for regulating, directing and limiting the actions of persons and groups living in society. In the pursuit of their self-interest at the detriment of others, individuals and groups left in absolute freedom will collide with each other. They do serious damage to society, resulting in anarchy. Legislation is one of the several organizations that oversees and guides individual action into appropriate channels. Others include social practices, rituals, religious law, etc.

Law has many branches and is a vast subject. All laws are social in a broad sense, only those laws that are enacted for the purpose of social protection are known as social laws in a narrow sense. There are many types of laws such as taxation, corporate, civil, criminal, commercial, etc. Law that has its origins in law may be more correctly called enacted law, all other forms are distinguished as unenacted. Laws are a form of social rule originating from government institutions, the more common term.

When they are made and put into effect by a law-making body or authority, laws become legislation. Legislations, particularly social policies, have played a significant role in bringing about social change. Two things can be uncovered by a careful analysis of the role of legislation in social change.
  1. The state and society strive to put legal norms into line with current social norms by laws.
  2. Legislations are also used on the basis of modern legal standards to strengthen social norms.

Only when a legal sanction is given to the current social standard will social reform be a successful means of social change. By itself, no law can replace one norm with another. This can hardly alter standards. Global reform can hardly be brought on by unaided social legislation. But with the help of popular opinion, a shift in social norms may be caused by a change in social behavior. In order to understand this point, some examples of social legislation made in India will help us.

Before and after independence, a variety of laws were made in India with a view to bringing about social change. Any of these may succeed, while a few others remain as dead letters. Legislation is an instrument to monitor, direct and limit the actions of individuals and groups living in society. Legislation is a tool to govern, guide and restrict the behavior of individuals and groups living in society.

In the pursuit of their self-interest at the detriment of others, individuals and groups left in absolute freedom will collide with each other. They do serious damage to society, resulting in anarchy. Legislation is one of the several organizations that oversee and guide individual action into appropriate channels. Others include social practices, rituals, religious law, etc. Law has many branches and is a vast subject.

From a wide perspective, all laws are social in character, from a thin perspective just those laws that are established with the end goal of social welfare are recognized as social legislation. There are many kinds of laws, for example, taxation, corporate, common, criminal, business and so forth. Social is that part of law which is a total of various socio economic standards of the individuals. It is a social foundation that typifies the social standards made on the order of a competent legislative authority These laws are authorized keeping in view the requirements of the time, the conditions of the country and its socio-political goals.[6]

In a Welfare State, the need and value of social policy should not be compromised. Our Constitution represents the expectations of the masses to become a welfare state where everyone has the right to live a dignified life and there is a fundamental right to pursue happiness. In a wider sense, all men in the country have the right to fundamental human rights, such as the right to life, housing, health at work, education, etc.

These privileges can now only be protected through state intervention. Social law provides us with a sufficiently formalized legislative system to accomplish these objectives. As the social order undergoes changes, it is a known reality that new challenges and demands emerge that can not be allowed to get out of control. Welfare laws must fix concerns such as youth delinquency, emerging modes of violence, socio-economic injustices, socio-economic inequality and social security issues. It also anticipates the course of transition in society. Social law is therefore important:
  1. to ensure social justice,
  2. to bring about social reform,
  3. to encourage social welfare,
  4. to bring in the social change required.
  5. The defense and advancement of the interests of socio-economically vulnerable social classes.

For the first time, the British government in India developed the supreme power of law in social matters, ensuring uniformity in law and social order that India had not had until then. In the last century, on the one hand, we have had a number of laws designed to bring about major changes in the status of women, girls, scheduled castes and other marginalized groups, while on the other hand, there were laws to bring reform in social structures such as family, marriage, etc.

A lot of social laws have been passed since Independence. We know that many of the evil practices, such as sati pratha, child marriage, etc., could still have continued if they were not limited by sufficient legislation in time.

Pre Independence Laws That Brought In Major Social Change

Abolition Of Sati Practice

In India, British officials and British missionaries first protested against the practice of Sati and demanded its abolition by the parliament in the face of intense resistance from the Conservative Hindus of the time.

On account of this unfortunate widow, it was Raja Rammohon Roy who first came forward and urged the liberal and forsighted Governor General, Lord Bentinck, to avoid this barbaric murder of Hindu widows. Thus, on December 4, 1829, an ordinance abolished the barbaric practice of 'Sati'. This ugly tradition continued to survive in some provinces of India in spite of the national liberation movement and anti-caste focus, and one such example was the case of Roop Kanwar's death.

Roop Kanwar Case

However, what is abnormal is that after a long slip by of time this barbarous activity had returned in specific pieces of the nation. On fourth September, 1987, Roop Kanwar of Deorala in Rajasthan demonstrated Sati. She was simply 18 years old youngster at the hour of her passing. After the occasion she was given the status of Sati Mata. The Special Court at Jaipur had blamed 11 individuals for celebrating the demonstration of Sati. The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 was passed by the Government. The unsettling act of Sati was restricted forever from the Indian soil.[7]

Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929
The child marriage restraint act was passed in 1929 to abolish child marriage in india. The government understood the potiential dangers, this evil of child marriage had to the life of both the female and the male. Lack of sexual unawareness, menstrual health and the stress of married life added to the disadvantages of child marriage.

Post Independence Laws That Brought In Social Change

Untouchability Offences Act 1955

The 17th Article of the Indian Constitution states that untouchability is a punishable offence. For the eradication of untouchability the 'Untouchability Offences Act' was passed by Indian Government in 1955 in which any person forcing the disabilities of untouchability can be sentenced to six months imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 500/- or both for his first offence. For every subsequent offence the sentence will include both a term in jail as well as fine. If considered necessary, the punishment can also be increased.

This Act provides penalties for the offences like preventing a person from entering into public temples or places of worship, preventing the drawing of water from sacred lakes, tanks, wells etc. Enforcing all kinds of social disabilities such as preventing people from the use of a dharmasala, any shop, public restaurant, public hospital, hotel, educational institutions or any other place of public entertainment denying the use of any road, river, well, water top, river bank, cremation ground, etc.

Law is the ideal instrument for preserving justice and ensuring that in society, lawlessness does not continue to reign. A surge of positive social change is triggered as legal judgements are aimed at changing the system. Only one example of legislation that can spur social reform is the groundbreaking SC decision that forbids offenders from running in elections.

The law has enormous potential for meaningful social change to be initiated. The face of many cultures all over the world has been transformed by legal changes. In several developing countries, issues such as low levels of literacy and gender inequality have been removed due to legal frameworks to tackle the issue. Legislation has the power to influence societal change. It is meant to bring about a social order where human rights are safeguarded.

  1. Mondal, P., n.d. Essay On Social Change: Meaning, Characteristics And Other Details. [online] Your Article Library. Available at: [Accessed 14 December 2o2o].
  3. n.d. Chapter 7: Law And Social Change - Auknotes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 January 2o21].
  4. n.d. Constitution | SUPREME COURT OF INDIA. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 December 2o2o].
  5. BADE, D., n.d. THE JUDICIAL PROCESS AS AN INSTRUMENT OF SOCIAL ORDERING. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 December 2o2o].
  6. Sehgal, R., n.d. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 December 2o2o].
  7. Gupta, P., 2o19. The Last Sati Case Of Roop Kanwar Reaches Final Arguments In Court. [online] SheThePeople TV. Available at: [Accessed 17 December 2o2o].

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