Social offences and their impact on the Criminal Justice System in India

How social offenses impact the Criminal Justice System in India?

India has always been a land of diversity and variations. This multiplicity in language, people, caste, color, religion, food, lifestyle, etc. However, has come with a heavy price- the price of social harmony. Achieving social harmony is the ultimate goal of the Criminal Justice System (CJS). The criminal justice system is an arrangement that delivers to certain specific goals. It includes many moving parts: laws written in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Criminal Procedural Code; enforcement of those laws by police, prosecutors, and judges; containment of the accused in jails and prisons and oversight of the offenders in correctional institutions.  Over the years CJS has gone through various changes in the form of amendments of the law, the structure of the judiciary and the condition of the correctional institutions.

Section 40 of the IPC defines Offence as an act punishable by the Code. An Offence takes place in two ways, either by a commission of an act or by the omission of an act. An offense is sometimes regarded as social when it represents a conscious challenge to a prevailing social order and its values. These offenses are sometimes referred to as “victimless crimes.” Although there is no clear victim, individual or otherwise, these crimes are purported to be criminal acts because they somehow weaken the moral fiber of society and are capable of harming a large number of people. Examples of social offenses include- corruption, dowry, gambling, trafficking, prostitution, offenses against children, drug and alcohol abuse, discriminatory act against the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. These social offenses have structured the way our Criminal Justice System deals with these offenders and how over time it has come to be more comprehensible and justice is driven for the victims.

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What are social offenses? 

1. ‘Dowry’ means any property or valuable security is given or agreed to be given either directly or indirectly for the purpose of marriage. This social offence puts a major threat to the lives of women as it leads to mental and physical torture they face from not only the society, but also their own family. The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 prohibits the practice of giving or taking of dowry by either party to a marriage. This law also punishes demanding and advertising dowry. Even after the enactment of this act, the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) recorded 18,233 dowry death cases in 2012. However, it has been observed that the act has often been misused to frame innocent people. This has resulted in the wastage of time and resources of the police department as well as the court. Keeping this in mind, a bench consisting of judges AK Goel and UU Lalit  passed a ‘directive to police and magistrates that there would be no automatic arrests or coercive actions arising out of complaints lodged under section 498A without ascertaining the veracity of the complaints.’

2. Offenses against children is one of the most shameful and worrisome offenses as it not only effects the psychology of the child and parents, but also the social conditions of a society. India has taken various steps to keep this crime from exceeding further by enacting several laws and also by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 deals with sexual offenses against children in India, The National Policy for Children-2013 has been made to deal with immoral trafficking of children and their welfare.

3. Discrimination on the basis of region, language, color, profession, and religion is a very common occurrence in India. To protect the legal rights of these vulnerable sections of the society, the government enforcedThe Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and The Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. Realizing the graveness and the continuation of discriminatory activities against these marginalized sections, the Supreme Court amended the Prevention of Atrocities Act in 2015. This Amendment Act treats actions like tonsuring of the head, mustache, or similar acts which are derogatory to the dignity of members of SCs and STs as offenses of atrocities.

4. Trafficking and sexual exploitation for commercial purposes (prostitution) have been present in India for a long time. To tackle these growing social offenses which put at risk not only the lives of the ones involved in it but also the whole society in which it operates, India enforced The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956. This act provides in pursuance of the International Convention signed in New York on the 9th day of May 1950.

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Final Thoughts 

Besides these offenses, India has seen a sudden spurt in a lot of other activities that hamper the very social existence of our society. The Criminal Justice System has been vigilant and active in dealing with these issues and has made an effort to bring in laws that actually protect the citizens socially, economically and politically. The police department is now being made more responsible for the work they do and are held responsible for the omissions they make. The conditions of the correctional institutions are gradually improving and the offenders are been given a chance to reform their acts. That being said, it must also be noted that the mere existence of these laws is not enough to ensure the goal of safety, peace, and justice. It is imperative that these are followed at all the levels of the CJS for it to actually make a difference.

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