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The danger of disused laws

July 3, 2009

A few months ago, my daughter’s friend was celebrating her birthday by throwing a lunch at her apartment in Pune. It was in the middle of the afternoon when the police arrived. Apparently, the neighbors had complained about the loud music! These men who call themselves enforcers of the law threatened the youngsters, who ironically were all final year law students. There was alcohol on the premises and the police told them quite gleefully and that this was enough reason to file a charge sheet and put them behind bars. After some heated negotiation, each student coughed up Rs 2000/- so that they did not have to go to jail and get themselves a criminal record. We have stupid laws in India some states which make it mandatory for everyone to have an alcohol permit. Most of us don’t.

That incident was never reported in the media because no police complaint was registered. There are many such incidents. Many of us know someone who has been through a harrowing experience of this kind or we have read about it in the newspapers. I am not talking of drugs or rave parties here, but simple music, dancing and alcohol. An excuse for the police to barge in and get their hafta. The most recent example which came out in the media is the private party at Lonavala. The Lonavala police “raided” the party although all that was happening there was a celebration of a birthday. Sure, the party was noisy, and there was alcohol.  But the police knew that the party goers would not possess liquor permits.

Very few individuals actually have such permits, and in fact not everyone knows that they have to have one. This law, made around the time of Independence (the Bombay Prohibition Act) rules that an individual has to have a permit to drink any liquor other than beer. Not just that. A certificate (which will invariably be false) needs to be submitted from a doctor certifying that “he/she requires foreign liquor and/or country liquor for the preservation and maintenance of his/her health.’’ The height of stupidity eh. But it ceases to be a joke when one is threatened with imprisonment up to six months…because that is what drinking without a permit can get you.

This law is such an ass that it’s not surprising that people don’t bother about it. Actually, nor does the government. It’s only the corrupt and greedy police who care about it. It’s one of their extortion tools. Disused laws give the corrupt an easy method of making money because it is unlikely that people know about the existence of such laws.

The truth is that anybody who parties and even those who drink alone at home can become victims of the corrupt police. Someone with a grudge against you has to complain and even if you are drinking a rum at six in the evening the police can come and arrest you.

There is another law which is used to harass and blackmail. The law which forbids unnatural sex, under which all kinds of activities fall, including homosexuality. The punishment is a ridiculous ten years!! That the law is rarely invoked, we know, except when it comes to extorting money from those “caught.” There have been no convictions for being “guilty” of homosexual relations in India, ever. Yet, this disused law is often invoked by those in power to extort money and other favours.

It is a relief that the Delhi High court has declared that homosexual acts are no longer to be considered illegal amongst consenting adults. This is just a small step which right now applies only to Delhi. And is probably the government’s way of getting round religious groups who are opposed to repealing the law which forbids gay sex. Whether it is the Catholics, the Sikhs, the Hindus or the Muslims, conservative religious people from these communities who hold sway over vote banks are opposing it. The government was seriously thinking of repealing the anti-gay law but developed cold feet because of the religious opposition. But the high court has helped the government, although religious groups are going to challenge the ruling in the Supreme court. I don’t think the Supreme court is going to against the Delhi High court judgment. And once the Supreme court gives its stamp of approval, it will pave the way for the government to change the law. Sad news for the corrupt police, no?

Related Reading: Gay parents and heterosexual parents – any difference?
Read all posts on Corruption in India
Read all posts on Indian Society

50 Comments leave one →
  1. Meghna permalink
    July 3, 2009 5:50 pm

    Its shocking that normal law-abiding people are subjected to this kind of behavior from the police! why can’t they go catch the rapists and the criminals!

  2. July 3, 2009 5:58 pm

    Nita, I wasn’t aware of this! So ridiculous. Does this mean anybody who serves alcohol at home needs a permit to do so? Is this Maharashtra specific? I thought normally such parties were raided on grounds of assembling in large numbers without the required permits…

  3. July 3, 2009 6:11 pm

    Absurd laws like this one are kept alive to give discretionary power to police, to bureaucrats etc. who get bribed in order for good people to escape such punishments. It is a part of a legalised corruption system.
    We are full of such stupid regulations in Italy.

  4. July 3, 2009 7:35 pm

    Meghna, catching innocents is always easier! And one gets paid too!

    apu, the bombay prohibition act may apply to Maharashtra, but there is one in Gujarat too. I don’t know why there should be such a law in Maharashtra as MH is not a dry state. I think it might be so in some other states, like Mizoram, but am not sure about it as I could not find the information. I should have mentioned that this is a state law.

    Man of Roma, as you said these regulations are always a boon to those in power. It should be so easy to scrap outdated laws which no one uses, but actually it’s the most difficult because of the bureaucracy.

  5. Vinod permalink
    July 3, 2009 7:58 pm

    There are disused but valid laws in some states in US where it is illegal to have sex with lights on!!

  6. July 3, 2009 8:37 pm

    there are lot of redundant laws , which need to be removed…but then the current seems to shock our leaders and they run about trying to plug all the short circuits …

  7. July 3, 2009 8:43 pm

    Stupidity and absurdity of some of our laws and some of our social systems are simple mind boggling.
    We need a through revision of all the British era laws.No doubt police have a field day.
    In India, sometimes i feel there is TOO MUCH invasion of privacy.

  8. July 3, 2009 9:31 pm

    What? You need a permit? 😆
    I thought you just need to be above a certain age.
    All I can say is that those police men must have had a great daru party that night.

  9. July 3, 2009 10:25 pm

    I actually had such a permit for several years. 🙂

    Even today, you will find many restaurants serving alcohol termed as ‘Bar and Permit Room’ – not just the law, even the language still persists.

    Regarding the other news, all I say is (to quote The Rational Fool): Gay Ho! 🙂

  10. July 3, 2009 10:46 pm

    Huge step in advancing individual rights and equality for everyone in the country. I hope the legislative decision is made soon. 🙂

  11. July 3, 2009 10:50 pm

    That is so ridiculous! You are right, the only reason such laws still remain so that our corrupt police can make some money out of some innocents.

    And sadly, it is always the innocent who get caught and who pay these fines too.. The others, manage to get away, scot-free.

    Yes, the Delhi High court ruling is a relief! It must be a huge achievement for all the activists who had been campaigning for decades..

  12. July 4, 2009 12:17 am

    Police knocking on the door happens quite often in the US when neighbors complain of noise. But this business of getting a certificate from Doctor is amusing.

  13. July 4, 2009 12:43 am

    Nita, even in Massachusetts (which is considered a liberal state) and only a few years ago, an old law from the times of slavery that outlawed inter-racial marriages and was still in the books, was invoked by the then Governor Romney to prevent gays from out-of-state from marrying in Massachusetts (when out-of-state straight couples could marry). Thankfully, it was revoked by the lawmakers, though if a citizen vote had been taken, it probably would’ve been close.

    It’s good that the Delhi Court has forced the hands of the government which had developed cold feet because of its precious minority vote-banks and their opposition to repealing 377. From what I’ve read, Shivraj Patil – Home Minister in the last government – was staunchly opposed to this repealing of sections of 377 that deal with consenting adults.

  14. July 4, 2009 1:58 am

    Nita – I can well imagine my GP’s response if i asked him to sign a certificate saying that i needed imported or local liquor for health reasons. What a huge waste of people’s time. And what intrusion of nonsense into life. It comes as a huge surprise to me how puritanical India in general seems to be. I am surprised that you have the Kajuraho carvings, beautiful, celebratory public art – but that fig leaves havent been mandated to be applied to the naughty portions.
    As to repeal of gay sex laws, it’s time to remove the pressure of censure on homosexual people all over the world, and it’s good that your home state is taking inroads in this direction. G

  15. July 4, 2009 2:38 am

    According to a S.C. judgement of 2004, the H.C.’s judgement (in this case pertaining to Section 377 of IPC dealing with unnatural sexual act) will be applicable to whole India and not just Delhi. But still there is some confusion about it.
    Whatever, it may be, the ball is now in the executive and Parliament’s court. They must address the issue as soon as possible!

  16. July 4, 2009 2:47 am

    Hey what a coincidence! Just aftr leaving ur blog, switchd on the news nd was welcumd by a report of 29 youngsters(boys nd girls) getting arrested in Pune for possessing liquor and creating noise in a party.
    In this case, bribing mst hav failed i blive!

  17. July 4, 2009 10:01 am

    I have seen permit, and want to have the same, but there are I guess no means, to get it done. At least its not easily available now a days.
    I think its also the way cops continue to harass common man.

  18. July 4, 2009 10:39 am

    Coming from gujarat i hardly know much about alcohol and the permits. no, no.. i am not saying gujarat is totally dry! 😉 ; ) Its just that i am ignorant 🙂

  19. July 4, 2009 11:18 am

    Vinod, illegal to have the lights on!! Thats really funny! 🙂 🙂

    Vishesh, well if they succeeded in plugging the short circuits at least it would be something! But even here they fail.

    IndianPundit, perhaps someone should make a list of the silly laws and publish them in a joke book. At times ridicule works better than criticism!

    Amit, yeah!!! All that liquor! I guess if the bribes don’t come, they at least have that.

    Mahendra, you are the only one I know who had this type of permit!! Perhaps it is because you are a hotelier and wanted to be on the safe side!

    , I am getting quite impatient with this govt and I don’t want to hope too much because it will then lead to more impatience.

    Smitha, I guess the police need to find a way to harrass innocents. Disused laws are a great way!

    maald, even I have heard of this, about police being very strict about noise in the US. But in India it’s not like that. It’s only illegal to make noise after 10 p.m. and even then it’s a bailable offense. No one has to go to jail.

  20. July 4, 2009 11:31 am

    Amit, talking of banning interracial marriages, the most recent thing here is that a committee is being set up to look into Hindu Muslim marriages to ensure that there is no conspiracy!!

    suburbanlife, yes the word you used “puritanical” is what India is becoming today. It wasn’t so when I was growing up in India and I think it was because a very small section of us were westernized and had an education in English. Today a huge section of the population has moved into the middle classes and as a result there are huge numbers of people wearing western clothes, and drinking and dating openly. This is frightening the small extremist majority and also the older generation who comes from a more conservative middle class background who see their children change before them. Affluence, cable television, higher education, and exposure to the world of the younger generation has increased the generation gap. There was hardly any generation gap between me and my parents as they were liberal and broadminded and I was allowed to meet boys and wear western clothes. That is why we never thought it a big deal. But today I am shocked at the way the parents behave towards their children because of their narrow minded ideas.

    Vipul, the delhi high court judgment is unlikely to be effective in other states. About the party, it is upsetting, very upsetting. They cannot slap an obscenity charge on someone dancing at a private party! In any case I know many people who think that western dancing is obscene and Indian dancing is not! I shudder to think what will happen if these saffron parties come to power. They might make a new law which says that western dancing is banned.

    sunny, the permit is available in the government office and doesn’t cost much, only about Rs 25/- I believe. But I am sure the proceedure will be a tedious one for which you will have to pay a tout!

    sakhi, proclaiming your innocence eh? I hope you don’t think drinking is a bad thing! 🙂 Just yesterday I had a glass of red wine at home and I guess I am glad no one phoned the police!! 🙂

    • July 4, 2009 11:44 am

      I got a update on site whihc say as follows:

      want to purchase/ possession / transport / use / consumption of foreign liquor and country liquor. Which licence and documents are required? And where it is available?
      The officer not below the rank of sub-inspector is empowered to grant permit in form F.L.X.-C. This permit is granted to the person above the age of 30 & 25 years in Wardha district and rest of Maharashtra respectively. The two stamp size photos, residential and age proof are required. The Permit fee is as follows.
      a) Life time permit- Rs. 1000/-
      b) One year permit- Rs. 100/-
      c) One day permit for country liquor Rs. 2/-
      d) One day permit for foreign liquor Rs. 5/-

      But only problem is here:
      Clause that mentions:

      3[I hereby declare that I require foreign liquor and country liquor on grounds of health and in support of my application I submit
      herewith the medical certificate inform F.L./M.C. 1 signed by Dr. ……………………………………………………
      Registered Medical Practitioner.]

    • July 6, 2009 9:23 am

      There’s difference between innocence and ignorance 😉 and I do consider drinking bad (though not moral point but health point! 🙂 ) but then, thats my prob 🙂 🙂 I am glad no one called police …hee..hee…

  21. Vinod permalink
    July 4, 2009 5:56 pm

    … talking of banning interracial marriages, the most recent thing here is that a committee is being set up to look into Hindu Muslim marriages to ensure that there is no conspiracy!!

    I think that’s possibly because of the pressure on the non-muslim to convert to Islam. Hindus have a problem when a hindu has to convert to Islam to marry a muslim. I find the whole thing a huge mixup between marriage and religion. Few inter-religious lovers getting into it realize the pressure that they are likely to face and the impact on inter-community relations. But when in love, one is too blinded to think about all these realities, however detestable they be.

    Is there another reason for the conspiracy element?

    • July 4, 2009 6:38 pm

      Vinod, I am sure you are right that this is the main thing because then the children too will take on the religion. I personally know a couple where a christian woman is married to a muslim. There is huge pressure on her from the man’s relatives and the society they move in. However she is a devout catholic from India and she worships Jesus Christ in the privacy of her home and she “practices” Islam in public. Her husband obviously knows and says nothing but has begged her to keep up appearances. I also know of a Hindu girl who refused to marry a boy because he was insisting that she convert to Christianity. So I think these things are individual. It’s silly for the government to be involved in this.

  22. vasudev permalink
    July 4, 2009 8:12 pm

    boozing at home will never be the same again.

  23. July 4, 2009 8:36 pm

    You would find this interesting… I hope 😀

    Regarding alchohol permits… well… I don’t drink… but it should not be required while drinking at home…

  24. July 4, 2009 8:57 pm

    Dirty laws which are useless and useful to police.

  25. vasudev permalink
    July 4, 2009 9:10 pm

    visited your site and read your post on the recent delhi hq ruling. quite hilarious but with a deep meaning in it.
    my own take…
    next…let them legalise lesbianism.
    my take…
    we are fast moving from a world of dissapointed heterosexualism (divorces! divorces!) to a most pleasurable homosexualism.
    acharya rajnish had explained it well…(no man’s wife is alien to you ’cause marriage was man made and not god ordained!’
    ten years down the line dineshes and ravis would come to realise that (as long as we do not have government officials holding on to pre-historic, british ordained laws and regulations that surpass time!)

    • July 5, 2009 10:01 am

      @ vasudev

      well… yes 😀
      thanks for your comment… do leave this on my blog… coz it would make people think more about the issue..

  26. vasudev permalink
    July 5, 2009 10:56 am

    chiranjib…unable to log on at your blog. internet explorer aborts the action. pl. check.

    • July 6, 2009 12:58 pm


      am sorry… I had accidentally written instead of

  27. vasudev permalink
    July 5, 2009 5:12 pm

    [And once the Supreme court gives its stamp of approval, it will pave the way for the government to change the law.]

    too early to predict. supreme court has been snubbed on many occassions before by the govt which got together to amend the constitution or to introduce clauses and by-clauses…like in the cases of reservations/minority appeasements…

  28. July 5, 2009 7:14 pm

    Nita, the core of the issue is not alcoholism and its benefits which “needs” to be available to common man, but the issue is about corruption in the police department. And even other govt. offices which issues similar documents like registration certificates, NC for vehicle transportation from state to state etc. take hell lot of a time and ‘procedures’. Like the above case where holding alcohol without the permits, can be compared to the mandatory pollution check that is required every six months – which the cops never use to prevent “pollution”, as everyone are aware.

    Destination Infinity

    Ofcourse DI, the post is about the corruption. You are bang on. – Nita

  29. July 6, 2009 7:39 am

    It is just plain stupid.But the police to collect hafta will not make any effort to have some of the laws relooked at.
    In case you all do not know…the law says that if you have more than 4(four) bottles of imported whisky in your house, you need a licence called L-42.
    If you don’t have the licence and are caught with 4 bottles,the police can arrrest you immly. That is the law.How many of really know of this law?It is enough to put anyone behind bars.
    Allsuch laws are hafta collecting machines.
    Another word of caution.Police does this on a much greater scale during the festival season,which is round the corner.Police also needs to celeberate .CHEERS

    Festival season is bribe season!! – Nita.

    • July 6, 2009 8:42 am

      Oh! I didn’t see this comment before investing. I am talking of the same license in my comment.

      • July 6, 2009 8:44 am

        I think I wanted to say commenting* rather than investing 🙄 May be I meant investing time. 😉

        • July 6, 2009 8:54 am

          Commenting is investing time!! I really appreciate it when people take the time to comment! Thanks Anshul.

  30. July 6, 2009 8:41 am

    In some states it is also mandatory to obtain a permit for keeping(not serving) liquor(mainly imported liquor), if it exceeds certain value. It also states the ratio of IMFL to Imported Liquor that one can keep. I own one such permit. Although I do not remember the details now.

    P.S. There is no search box on your blog, I had commented about it earlier too. 🙂

    • July 6, 2009 8:53 am

      Anshul, thanks for pointing this out. I had it earlier with the earlier theme and then forgot that I hadn’t! Or rather, I thought that I had the search box. I think this happens because I usually access my blog on the admin page! Thanks a lot for bringing it to my attention although I do not remember you doing it earlier. Probably absentmindedness on my part.

    • July 6, 2009 9:07 am

      The license comes under provisions of Punjab Excise act 1914. It is valid for 10 years and costs Rs.5000. It allows you to keep upto 24 Quarts(1.136 or 1 litre) of imported liquor at your permanent or temporary residence for drinking and serving and not for sale. The license also allows to transport 12 quart bottles of imported liquor bought from Punjab to where-ever you live in India. 🙂

      (Sorry for flooding your comments section.) 🙂

      • July 6, 2009 9:38 am

        For maharashtra it as follows:
        On permit any one can posses and transport 12 unit of Foreign liquor, Country Liquor, Beer or Wine Foreign and Country Liquor ( 1 unit = 750 ml, Wine 1 units = 1500 ml, Beer and Mild liquor 1 unit = 2600 ml)

        Useful link here >>

  31. Vivek Khadpekar permalink
    July 6, 2009 9:10 am

    While generally agreeing with the predominant sentiments expressed in this post, may I play devil’s advocate and suggest that sometimes it is useful to retain archaic laws in the books, as proxies for more contemporary and relevant laws which ought to but do not exist.

    Let us, as an example, take the birthday party which Nita admits was noisy enough to disturb the neighbourhood. The normal attitude in India towards anyone who is disturbed by or (god forbid) objects to noise, is that [s]he is some kind of freak or weirdo. This attitude exists even among the affluent (and therefore deemed to be civilised) classes. When even polite requests to turn down the volume are met with hostility and invective, one has no alternative but to call in the cops (if they oblige, that is).

    We do have some laws which can be interpreted to apply to (especially) wilful and avoidable noise pollution, but are not, because even a not-too-bright lawyer can shoot them down in court. Even when, during festivals, the police commissioner specifically lays down a deadline for the use of loudspeakers, it is routine to armtwist him/her to give some (considerable) leeway with the deadline, purportedly in the interests of religious freedom, but actually to serve the mercenary interests of the scumbag event organisers.

    What, then, is the alternative for the police? Obviously it is to invoke laws which, though archaic or stupid, are amenable to being invoked.

    • July 6, 2009 10:32 am

      Vivek, if one invokes the law it is fine. I am all for punishing those who create noise pollution and in fact I am for strict implentation of the law. Why, it’s better that people keep to noise limits even in the daytime, although it is not illegal to make noise then. However, the punishment by the cops has to be a heavy fine with an official receipt. Such fines are usually quite reasonable and if necessary the music system can also be taken away. However for making noise people should not be jailed overnight. The law does not provide for it, for making noise. Or people should not be threatened that they will go to jail and that a charge sheet will be filed, making them criminals forever. Such behavior by the police cannot be condoned under any circumstances.
      And when it comes to possessing alcohol, I am not sure whether it involves a jail sentence. If it does such a law should be abolished. It is criminal to jail people for drinking. Drinking has been going on since time immemorial and will do so whether it is banned or not. And frankly I do not see drinking as a criminal activity as long as one is not creating a public nuisance, which none of the people mentioned in the post were doing.

    • July 6, 2009 5:23 pm

      When we were watching the IPL finals, last year, we were making quite an amount of noise (we didn’t realize that we were shouting – we were a group of six people in a residential area). The neighbour called up the police for this! By the time police came near our house with the neighbours, some one saw and informed us and we quickly switched off the lights, TV etc. and went to sleep. The cops didn’t even come inside – they just called our PG owner, gave a warning and went away. I think the cops in Bangalore are much better than cops in Chennai (even the traffic police!). Unrelated, but just an observation 🙂

      Destination Infinity

      • vasudev permalink
        July 6, 2009 10:20 pm

        slowly but surely we are moving towards a police country. these are but the first tentative exploratory steps to study citizen reaction. i am sure someone has grandois plans for all of us. maybe some powerful theocrat feels we have democratic anarchy in place?

  32. July 6, 2009 10:28 pm

    Really I didnt know that law!! I hear my colleagues having liquor parties at somebody’s place all the time!

  33. rahul permalink
    July 7, 2009 1:34 pm

    They defend all this in the name of our “great” culture and traditions and whatever. People too like to invoke this “greatness” in situations suitable to them and decry the stupidity of it all in unfavourable situations.

    That brings us to the question: which is a greater sin(acc. to our Indian blah)? Drinking alcohol or barging in to make some illegal money

  34. August 2, 2009 1:56 pm

    These kinds of insensible laws promote disobedience of law and people then tend to disobey laws that are sensible too. Another thing that promotes disobidience of laws is the impunity with which the politicians & the criminals break it. All put together it results in a country where only the meek follow the law and the law follows the rest.

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