India changes colonial-era criminal laws to deliver ‘justice’

India changes colonial-era criminal laws to deliver ‘justice’

India replaced colonial-era criminal laws on Monday with new legislation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says will make the country fairer but which the opposition says could turn the criminal system upside down.

The new laws were passed by parliament in December during Modi’s previous term, with the government saying its aim was to “deliver justice, not punishment”. It claims they were necessary because colonial laws had been at the heart of the justice system for more than a century.

Among the major changes is the replacement of the sedition law, often used as a repression tool after it was enacted under British colonial rule to arrest Indian freedom fighters.

Under the new laws – which replace the Indian Penal Code, the Indian Evidence Act and the Code of Criminal Procedure – sedition has been replaced with acts seen as “threatening the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India”.

“After nearly 77 years of independence, our criminal system is becoming completely indigenous and will work on the basis of Indian ethos,” Indian Home Minister Amit Shah told reporters. “There will be justice instead of punishment.”

Opposition Congress party MLA P. Chidambaram said there was “no legitimate debate” before the laws were passed in the last session of Parliament.

He said the new laws were only minor improvements, which could have been introduced as amendments to existing laws.

“The initial impact will be to turn the administration of criminal justice upside down,” he published on X.

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