India Proposes Comprehensive Overhaul of British-Era Criminal Laws

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India’s government has unveiled a proposal for the country’s most significant criminal justice overhaul since the British colonial era, introducing new punishments for mob lynchings and crimes against women. The current Penal Code and other statutes governing the police and courts were established during the 19th century when India was under British rule.

To bring about sweeping changes, the government plans to remove outdated references to the British monarchy and other symbols of colonialism. Home Minister Amit Shah, while presenting the bills for the reforms to parliament, stated that these laws were originally intended to support colonial rulers and punish rather than provide justice. The aim now is to protect the constitutional rights of Indian citizens.

The proposed amendments include imposing the death penalty on those involved in mob lynchings and introducing minimum sentences of 20 years for gang rape. Additionally, the bills introduce community service provisions for petty crimes, aiming to address the significant backlog of criminal cases in Indian courts, which currently have millions of pending cases. To ensure faster resolution, fixed timelines for trials and criminal investigations will also be implemented, as these processes often drag on for years without any conclusive results.

While the bills have been referred to a parliamentary committee for further deliberation, they could be passed before the current legislature dissolves ahead of the general elections scheduled for May next year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist government has continually strived to eliminate remnants of colonial rule from Indian history, the urban landscape, and political institutions. The government has already renovated New Delhi’s parliamentary precinct, originally designed by the British, by replacing old colonial-era structures.

In a move to honor independence heroes and distance themselves from British influence, last year, Modi inaugurated a statue of Subhas Chandra Bose, who fought against British rule but was also criticized for collaborating with Nazi Germany. The unveiling ceremony interestingly coincided with the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain. The statue replaces one of Britain’s King George V, which was torn down almost fifty years ago.

Overall, India’s proposed overhaul of criminal laws showcases its commitment to modernizing and establishing a justice system that protects the rights and safety of its citizens.

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