‘Made-in-India’ Criminal Laws: How BNS Will Change the Legal System, Why Section 69 is Devastating for Men

New Delhi: India has enacted three new criminal laws, the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), Bharatiya Nagrik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS), and Bharatiya Sakshya Adhiniyam (BSA), replacing the longstanding Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860, Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973, and Indian Evidence Act of 1872, respectively. These laws, passed by the Indian Parliament in December 2023, aim to modernize the country’s criminal justice system. As of July 1, all new First Information Reports (FIRs) will be registered under these updated statutes, while cases registered before this date will continue under the old laws.

Key Changes and Provisions

The new laws introduce several significant reforms to streamline the criminal justice process and enhance protections for vulnerable groups.

Speedy Trials and Judgments

Criminal case judgments must now be delivered within 45 days after the trial ends, with charges framed within 60 days of the first hearing. Additionally, state governments are mandated to implement witness protection schemes to ensure witness safety.

Zero FIR and Online Processes

The new laws allow for the filing of Zero FIRs at any police station, regardless of jurisdiction, and permit online registration of police complaints and electronic serving of summons, increasing accessibility and efficiency.

Protection for Women and Children

Statements from rape victims must be recorded by a female police officer in the presence of a guardian or relative, with medical reports completed within seven days. A new chapter addresses crimes against women and children, imposing severe penalties for offenses like buying or selling a child and gang rape of a minor, which can result in a death sentence or life imprisonment.

Videography and Electronic Summons

Videography of crime scenes is now mandatory for all heinous crimes, and summons can be served electronically to expedite legal processes.

Recognition of New Crimes

The BNS recognizes murder on the grounds of race, caste, or community as a separate offense and addresses emerging crimes such as gang rapes, mob killings, and false promises of marriage.

Equal Treatments and Rights

Both the accused and the victim are entitled to receive copies of the FIR, police report, charge sheet, statements, confessions, and other documents within 14 days. Courts are allowed a maximum of two adjournments to avoid unnecessary delays in case hearings.

Inclusion of Transgenders

The definition of “gender” now includes transgenders, ensuring broader protections and recognition.

Community Service

Community service is introduced as an alternative punishment for certain offenses, such as small theft, defamation, and attempts to die by suicide, aiming to provide more rehabilitative forms of justice.

Controversial Provisions and Criticism

Despite these advancements, some provisions of the new laws have sparked debate and criticism.

Section 69 of the BNS

Section 69 of the BNS, which punishes deceitful sexual intercourse with imprisonment up to ten years and a fine, has been particularly contentious. Critics argue that this provision assumes only men are capable of deceiving women with false promises of marriage or employment, thus discriminating against men and ignoring that women in power can also engage in deceit. This, they contend, violates Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution, which ensure equality before the law and prohibit discrimination.

Historical Context and Misuse Concerns

The misuse of similar provisions under the old IPC has been well-documented. In December 2022, the Orissa High Court ordered a review of section 90 of the IPC, which addresses consent in cases involving false marriage promises. The court emphasized that rape laws should not govern intimate relationships where women have agency. Instances of alleged rape based on fictitious marriage vows after long-term relationships or cohabitation highlight the potential for abuse, exacerbated by the new law’s lack of specific guidelines.

Call for Repeal

Given these issues, there is a growing call for the repeal of section 69 of the BNS. Critics argue that a thorough public consultation process is necessary before enacting such a law. They urge the government to review and revise this clause to prevent misuse and ensure it aligns with principles of equity and justice. The government is encouraged to consider these criticisms and ensure the new laws protect everyone’s rights and dignity while preventing abuse.

Mahi Saha
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Mahi Saha, from Ranchi, reports for Neo Politico.

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