Christening new criminal law Bills in Hindi and Sanskrit reflects majoritarian state of mind, say protesting Chennai advocates

Advocates of Madras High Court have asked for immediate withdrawal of the three criminal law Bills introduced recently and the need to hold a national debate for eliciting public opinions from all stakeholders before the overhaul of the entire criminal justice system of the country.

ON August 23, the Madras Bar Association passed a resolution expressing “objection” and “anguish” over the naming of the newly introduced Bills in the Hindi language. 

The resolution comes days after the Federation of Bar Associations in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry Bar began  their 10 days protests on August 21, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the three criminal law Bills due to their vernacular titles.

The three Bills, Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita, 2023; Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita, 2023 and the Bharatiya Sakshya Bill, 2023, are set to replace the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 respectively.

The resolution states that naming the Bills in Hindi is a flagrant violation of Article 348 (Language to be used in the Supreme Court and in the high courts and for Acts, Bills, etc.) of the Indian Constitution.

On August 25, advocates of Madras High Court had held a demonstration outside the high court.

After the demonstrations, the advocates passed a resolution, The resolution calls out the manner in which the three Bills were introduced without any prior public discussion as “undemocratic”.

Through the resolution, the Madras Bar Association has also condemned the timing of the introduction of the new Bills. 

The Bills were introduced at the height of national outcries over the raging violence and huge loss of life in Manipur over the past two months and to divert the national attention away from Manipur,” the resolution states.

The resolution remarks that despite introducing the Bills in a “tearing hurry” in the Parliament and amidst the protests of the Opposition parties, sufficient time was not given to the Standing Committee on Home Affairs to convene.

Even the select committee convened its meeting at a short notice of three days, a move which was opposed by a few members who demanded that sufficient time be given to enable conducting of a meaningful deliberation and discussion,” the resolution says.

The resolution states that since criminal law has the potential to infringe upon the life and personal liberty of all persons, discussion and consultation with the society is a precondition for the acceptability of the three Bills. 

The resolution adds: “The three Bills which seek to replace the 150 year-old criminal justice system affect everyone in the country and need to be debated in the public domain to elicit views from all sections of the society.”

Further, the attempt to impose a specific language has also been called out in the resolution.

The resolution states: “The language of the Supreme Court and the high courts being English, the christening of the Bills in Hindi and Sanskrit impedes the dissemination of the Constitutional courts’ judgments and makes them incomprehensible to the common man.”

[The use of such language] also reflects the majoritarian state of mind of the ruling dispensation to impose Hindi and Sanskrit on non-Hindi speaking states and people,” the resolution claims.

The resolution concludes by stating: “The naming of the Bills in Hindu and Sanskrit is an affront to constitutional morality and public character of our nation as affirmed by the framers of our Constitution.

It also goes against the preambuler principles and the spirit of promoting fraternity among all citizens, assuring dignity of individuals and the unity and integrity of the nation.”

Vijayakumar, a senior advocate of the Madras High Court, and one of the organisers of the protests, told The Leaflet: “The move of the Union government [of introducing the three criminal law Bills] is undemocratic and malafide. There is no public interest involved. The three Bills shall have to be immediately withdrawn.”

The Leaflet