Shedding the Past

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The Indian government introduced three bills this week aimed at overhauling certain colonial-era criminal laws, including a sedition act that has been used by officials to crack down on dissent, Al Jazeera reported.

Interior Minister Amit Shah said the draft laws will replace provisions in the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act, implemented by the British before the country’s independence in 1947.

He added that these bills “will aim to give justice, not punishment,” and strengthen legislation to better protect women and minors.

One of the chief changes will be to replace the sedition law, which was enacted by India’s  British rulers in 1860 to repress Indian political leaders and freedom fighters seeking independence from Britain, the Associated Press noted.

Since independence, it has been frequently used as a tool by the government to suppress and intimidate those criticizing it.

Analysts said the new law doesn’t change anything.

Meanwhile, draft legislation intended to protect women would criminalize sexual exploitation by perpetrators using the pretext of marriage, employment or promotion, or through the use of a secret identity.

The proposed changes would set a maximum punishment of life imprisonment for those convicted of gang rape, while the rape of a child would result in the death penalty.

The move is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to scrap obscure laws and modernize India’s legal system.

Observers noted that the bills, if approved, would cause some complications as courts will have to figure out what to do about tens of thousands of existing trials based on the current laws.

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