New Criminal Law Bills Passed: For India or Bharat?

The three bills to replace the IPC, 1860; CrPC, 1973, and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 were initially introduced in August by Home Minister Amit Shah to shed the colonial colours of the criminal legal system that had been in existence since the colonial period.


Amit Shah introducing the new Criminal Law Bills 2023 in Lok Sabha

The Parliament, on Wednesday, passed the three revised criminal law bills which Union Home Minster Amit Shah introduced on December 12 and defended in the Lok Sabha. With this the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS), the Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) and the Bharatiya Sakshya Sanhita (BSS) replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860; the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. 

Following their introduction in August, they were referred to a 31-member Parliamentary Standing Committee, headed by BJP MP Brij Lal for review. The revised bills were introduced at the suggestion of the committee. 

The Aim


The Bills which were initially introduced by Home Minister Amit Shah in August, were tabled again during the winter session to shed the colonial colours of the criminal legal system that had been in existence since the colonial period. Amit Shah, in the Lower House, also argued for the changes that the new framework of the Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita (BNS) brings with it. "Under the leadership of PM Modi, I have come to bring some major changes to the 150-year-old three laws which governed our criminal justice system". Talking about the efficacy of the new set of rules, he said, “the new criminal laws focus on justice rather than punishment." 


The BNS majorly retains the body of the IPC but has 358 sections in contrast to the IPC's 511 sections. 

The Decolonisation Agenda

The bills which were primarily pushed on the pretext of decolonising the criminal legal system come in tandem with the current government's attempts at reworking the country on the lines of Sanskritised Hindi. Legal experts and critics from the opposition have expressed concerns over the new laws which they consider to be merely a rehash of the ones existing since the British Rule in India. The laws retain their prosaic Victorian language with only minor tweaks brought around. Shah even pressed on the new laws identifying the act of sedition not merely as opposition to the government (rajdroh) but as posing a threat to the nation at large (deshdroh). Meanwhile, the members of the Opposition were concerned over the non-inclusiveness of the initial Parliamentary Committee which reviewed the bills. They also raised concerns that the new laws expand the power of the government to crack down on dissent.

When the earlier bills were tabled, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin took to social media to explain concern over the BJP's attempt at tampering with the diversity of India by establishing a culture of 'linguistic imperialism'. 

"This is an affront to the very foundation of #INDIA's unity. BJP and Prime Minister Modi have no moral right to even utter the word #Tamil hereafter. In the crucible of history, Tamil Nadu and DMK have emerged as the vanguards against such oppressive overtones. From the Anti-hindi agitations to safeguarding our linguistic identity, we have withstood the storm of #HindiImposition before, and we shall do it again, with unyielding determination," he wrote on X.


This happened around the same time as the G20 Summit in India, where a dinner invite read 'President of Bharat' instead of the usual President of India raised grave concerns among many regarding BJP's project of essentially imposing Sanskrit and Hindi as the linguistic crown of the country. 

The Question It Raises

The nomenclature of the new laws, yet again, fiddles with the concern among the critics regarding BJP's Hindutva-fuelled linguistic project. Amit Shah's argument of distancing from colonial remnants as the fulcrum to the discussions surrounding the replacement of the existing IPC, CrPC and the Indian Evidence Act, raises a question on both sides of the spectrum: Does BNS, BNSS and BSS actually bring forth any welcome change and walk towards shedding the colonial tone of the laws?