Socially bound or legally?

“Log kya kahenge?” or “What will people say?”………it’s not very infrequently that we come across this phrase in India. Much of what we do, how we dress, what we project ourselves as is dictated by ‘log’ or ‘people’. Now, I must confess that most of the ideas of this post aren’t my own, I’m more like a reporter of an exchange (an absorbing one) between my husband and father-in-law.

Human-beings are an interesting species, they have built around themselves this interesting idea called a Society. Though there are usually no written rules of how a society does or should work, there are unsaid norms which are followed by the population in general. There are, of course, “aberrations” who disregard these unwritten rules (after all, there is no ‘place’ where these rules are written down to be read and followed!!!) and earn themselves the tag of “rebels”. But, by and large, people build a Society around them and stick to the ‘accepted’ norms.

As the human establishments become more and more complex, there emerges a concept of law and order. Humans are a race that comes with an inherent variance in behaviour, some harmless and some, destructive. In order to bring a general harmony in a gathering of humans, laws are laid down and hence forms a new set of rules, LEGAL rules.

As a society, we continuously deal with these two sets of rules, legal and societal. While legally bound, we refrain from activities that are forbidden by legal authorities, i.e. driving without license, tax evasion, electricity theft, jumping red lights etc. While socially bound, we avoid indulging things that are likely to be looked down upon by people around us, e.g. our family, relatives, friends, neighbours etc.

As the discussion continued, there came an interesting point of where do Indians stand in this? Ah, a broad question with an even fuzzier answer. Where do we stand as a society and a law-and-order follower? A very apt example cited is the law against dowry. Demanding dowry from bride’s parents has been legally forbidden under IPC 304B and 498A since 1961. We’re 50 years into this law’s existence but just take a look around yourself. How many parents have you come across who don’t ‘save up’ for their daughter’s wedding, fearing how much they will have to ‘cough up’ when the marriage does arrive? How many parents put their foot down and refuse to pay a penny? And worse, how many girls remain unmarried or are married off to less suitable boys because her family is unable to give the demanded amount? How far are we in ‘following the legality of anti-dowry law’ and ‘breaking the societal clutch of dowry system’?

The utter disregard for the legal system and a stronghold of societal system on Indian mentality makes me wonder sometimes. Though both sets of rules are man-made, why is it that legal is followed so doggedly by some societies whereas societal by some others? India seems to be in a transition phase where (hopefully) the respect for legal framework is increasing and that for societal is decreasing. Where does this exactly take us from here is anyone’s guess……


PS: The post may seem utterly incomplete but then, there is lots that can be said about this



  1. Ram said,

    June 8, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    The problem with india is more with the execution of the laws than the law itself.
    For example: is it wise for the father to save up and buy a brand new bajaj chetak for the groom or get into a decade long court battle with the prospective groom and ruin both the families’ fortune?
    if there were fast delivery of justice, indians would think of going in that direction, otherwise they dont have a lifetime to waste on justice, there is more to life that the written word of the law.

  2. Ananthakrishnan said,

    June 8, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    You leave your post at an interesting point. One cannot say which one is better. Legal systems which need to be universal does not allow for many variances in society which can be controlled by local governance. Societal laws are more micro conforming while legal laws are macro conforming. Societal laws are often deeply coupled with morality, which is not considered in a legal system. Populations which follow legal systems to the book are perceived to be morally degraded (teenage pregnancies, drugs, high divorce rates etc.) A balance between the two would be ideal…. society controlling some forms of unacceptable behaviour while the legal framework controlling other forms of unacceptable behaviour.

  3. laasya said,

    June 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

    I agree with ram that we in india fear getting entangled with the law sufficiently to take alternate routes even if thats a compromise. and cases of police corruption and power misuse popping up daily hardly inspires confidence in law enforcement, unfortunately. like ananth has pointed out, societal law even if unwritten can be stronger than the constitution, particularly when you have to deal with your neighbours rather than with the chief justice on a daily basis! and so his opinion is likelier to count. i also think it exemplifies how we conform to a shame culture rather than guilt culture. you cant guilt someone who asks for a dowry. but put his name in the papers and advertise and the publicity might well cause him much discomfort leading to a reversion however insincere. whereas in the west publicity doesnt have to enter the picture, a regard for rules and a horror of going against them guides the public mentality. but i totally agree with you, log kya kahenge tends to get obsessive with us! 🙂

  4. Sandeep said,

    June 8, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    interesting topic…

    Society is an idea which arose out of need to find security (of most forms, physical, emotional, financial etc). “Laws” transforms this mental (idea) into a physical structure which we usually refer to society. This is true for human as well as most of the terrestrial life we see here.

    All through history, societies were made in the name of kings, race, color, nations, books (termed holy), gods (termed holy), environment (recently) and all the notions that could differentiate humans beings. To “maintain” this structure (so called society) some “laws” come into existence by “common minimum intellect” (analogy of LCM-least common multiplier in mathematics i.e something which almost everybody will agree to). This is why these laws are usually “unsaid”; like most (not all) societies developed with a notion that women are inferior to men, homosexuality is a sin, marriage should be the only symbol of a loyal sexual relationship and likewise.

    Now the role of “leaders” is most important in understanding the role of laws. FIRST leader randomly decided to be the boss and using his/her superior skills (mental/physical/psychological or social), (s)he starts dictating the terms thus laying the foundations for the LAWS (i would refer readers to see the movie “blindness”
    to get more insight into this idea).

    Leader has to submit to LCM level to maintain his position and hence most laws as mentioned above can be found in ancient as well as modern societies equally. Family being the basic unit of societal system, sons (usually) take over as future leaders and even if he does not match his fathers and forefathers in leadership, if he can maintain LCM laid down by them, he is/was usually accepted (example : royal families around the world present to this date) even in modern times.

    The “mob” (which accepts leaders) behaves like a shit-scared individual who is ready to buy security at any cost (freedom, individuality etc.) and whichever leader promises to provide that is accepted a leader and he maintains the “status quo” in the societal structure formulated by previous generations. This structure is made and maintained by LAWS.

    The illusion of different legal and social laws is a modern phenomenon. None of societies in past and present could afford to have a complete set of “objective” laws (All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others – George Orwell in Animal Farm). In practice social and legal laws have never been different. If a society is made to feel that capital punishment is bad, it enters legal system within few years. If a society is made to feel that Aryans is a superior race, then it enters legal system over some time. Legal laws are reflections of social laws with a time delay 🙂

    In a way, laws are reflections of our fears (We have laws for each possible fear). We say that laws are necessary to maintain peace whereas in effect we actually covertly mean that we fear the changes we might have to face if we remove these laws. Duplicity in notification of our fears enable the leaders in any system (fascist, democratic, aristocratic etc) to rule by making laws to satisfy our fears and makes us feel comfortable and hence they get acceptance to their existence as the protectors.

    This “fear based grouping” of humans as well as other non-human systems has enabled them to be alert and more fit for physical survival but also pulled down the majority of the population’s mental level to a common minimum and any attempt to go beyond it is/was usually perceived as threat to own existence.

    The “true” REBELS are the misfits. I added the word “true” to signify the ones who “could not be tamed” and those who went on new path out of their own passion (which will exclude the “ambulance chasers” obviously). For example, the true rebel in single mother-ship are the women who did that when it was considered a bad notion, not the ones who “chose” to be one since its no more uncomfortable. By this philosophical standard, rebels have always broke LAWS for which they suffered but when fruits of these broken laws tasted good, then “mob” makes them a law instead (since they don’t know anything better to do with them other than mindlessly asking everybody to conform to the new rule which few of them understand)

    I see this pattern repeatedly in almost all societies, ancient as well as modern. When i concluded that “convenience was/is the only religion of mankind ever”, the study of ancient and modern societies of human race as well as some animal species came very handy.

    So i would say Laws (legal or social, to me they are same) and society represent our fears and love for convenience. It has an Darwinian advantage which enabled us to survive effectively, produce in mass numbers and rule the earth but it also has an draconian disadvantage of limiting human mental potential by bounding it with limits (since laws are limits).

  5. Bhavin said,

    June 8, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Going back to ‘log kya kahenge’ me it seems like a chicken-egg situation ..there is no faith in the legal system for one and a basic lack integrity and patience on the other hand..lack of integrity is replaced with convenience..”Convenience being the only religion of mankind” applies more so for Indians that other societies..we have corruption, illiteracy, poor infrastructure, lack of social responsibility because its all convenient for us..but unfortunately we are a billion budding world bashers who have to put up with one another..and the only way to maintain peace is to deny individuality…the execution of the legal system is an example of that denial.. we like to believe in the age old social systems despite of the legal doing so at least there is acceptance and shelter under a social umbrella..when individuals don’t challenge these shelters confidence in the legal system does not the Indian scenario the ‘log kya kahenge’ is to an extent the replacement for the legal void..we console our consciences with lies of acceptance..i remember it being acceptable in college when you could get your driving licence paying a bribe..some of my friends would brag saying i paid a bribe and got the it done real fast, or that they had connections and they did the job..if you did not get it that were considered to be of lower social standing..all these things are illegal but acceptable in our society..and its the same for dowry…we love one-upmanship even if it means doing something totally wrong..if your neighbour got a wife and a are socially obliged to expect something more…

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