Law and society evolve simultaneously with almost some pace. They are complement to each other. Law has slowly and gradually evolved because of the slow and gradual change in social terms of society. After sometime, society also began to change with the forward changes in law. This article discusses such transformations in law and society due to changes in each other with the relevant or contemporary examples, in specific, the inheritance rights and the welfare of senior citizens of our country.
Evolution of Law and the way it has transformed the society in social terms
Law aids in evolving society from its rudimentary rule and regulations. Society changes because of changes in laws. Since following the law of land is mandatory for all those who are living on the land, therefore such mandatory changes become part of life of those who live and reside on that land.
India is having plenty of examples with regards to this like right to equality as a guaranteed fundamental right to all the people. Right to Equality is guaranteed by the Indian constitution to every person irrespective of religion, race, caste, class and gender. People in India had been facing inequality on the basis of such categories. This division was probably the main reason why India remained under the colonial rule of British Crown. People in India were first divided on the basis of religions, for example divide between Hindus and Muslims, class, caste, region, gender etc. Discrimination had existed on these bases since time immemorial. This happened to be rudimentary. After the enforcement of the Indian constitution in 1950, these divisions on all such basis were considered as violation of right to equality. This provision was the amendment in the law that people followed and since law also aims to change people according to the needs, therefore this was also the change in the lives of the people. Slowly and gradually people are now overcoming this rudimentary form of division amongst the people and are now understanding the importance of being together as Indians instead of, for example, Hindus and Muslims.
Change in Society which has caused change in laws
Sometimes the people’s conduct in the society also brings a change in the laws. In other words, the change in the conduct of the society brings changes in the laws that are governing it. Laws are basically for the convenience of the people. If they are beneficial for the people, they are implemented. Sometimes the laws prima facie appear to be disadvantageous but when they are researched and analysed, it appears that they are really very favourable to the masses or the target people. Contemporary instance of euthanasia is one of the best examples to depict the change in laws due to societal transformation.
The concept of euthanasia is closely related to the Article 21 of the Indian constitution which guarantees every human being a right to live his/her life with liberty and dignity. This concept was broadly discussed in the case Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India. In this case, Aruna Shanbaug was a nurse who was brutally raped in the hospital where she worked. Since the assault she was in the vegetative state. After thirty seven years, in 2011, her lawyer approached Supreme Court for the permission of euthanasia. In the instant case the Court did not grant the permission for euthanasia because according to the court this would be a violation of right to life. However, later the court granted the permission for pursuing euthanasia in its passive form. Euthanasia is categorised into two categories. These two categories are active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. Passive euthanasia was legalised in India as a right to die with dignity which is covered under the ambit of right to live with dignity and liberty.
Society got this change because of increasing awareness about the human rights. It is a human right any human to die with dignity. However this human right interfered with the proper exercise of right guaranteed under Article 21, if actual interpretation is considered. Although this article is very short in the constitution but it has been most widely interpreted. Under the ambit of this article, many implied rights like right to clean and pollution-free environment, right to travel abroad etc. These rights are also not the rights if literal interpretation of the Article 21 is under consideration. The way these rights are incorporated as fundamental right in the constitution; in the same way right to die with dignity is also now considered a fundamental right in the constitution.
Both the examples mentioned above show that a change in law definitely affects the society and vice-versa.
Inheritance Rights and Maintenance and Welfare of Senior Citizens Act, 2007
According to the newspaper report of The Hindu dated 20 September 2015, there had been 69% increase in the number of residents of old-age homes from 2011-2015 in Kerala. Throughout India, in 2009 it was estimated that there were more than thousand old age homes. According to HelpAge India, there are two reasons due to which elderly go to old age homes. First is that though they may feel loneliness but they have a sense of independence. Second is that, that some of them are forced to move to an old age home because they have experienced lack of emotional support, verbal and at times physical abuse, neglect and disrespect from their children. But, often in spite of this, they seem to prefer to be living in the comfort of their own home with their children and grandchildren.
In another report of HelpAge India, Older adults living in old age homes face problems of adjustment with tight and rigid schedules; total or near-total separation from their family, friends and society; anxiety over entrusting oneself to a new environment; diminished physical ability and close and frequent encounters with death and ailments in the institution. For many of them social support is almost absent and this leaves older adults with the feeling that he or she does not belong, is not loved or cared for, esteemed or valued. These and other factors make older adults increasingly vulnerable to mental health problems and their undesirable effects. Older adults have unpleasant experiences as they not only have to deal with change in their living environment but also have to get used to changes in daily life routines and social and support networks. They feel the loss of family and a sense of loneliness due to the loss of social interactions. They also feel a sense of powerlessness and their perceptions and fears had adverse effects on their adapting and settling into a new environment. Often they join the old age home because of the loss of a spouse, deterioration in health and the inability to look after oneself due to physical illness and disability, which leads to increased financial problems.
In many other researches, several experiences of elderly are highlighted. They are as follows:
- Though older adults seem to find satisfaction in life across the life cycle, there seems to be a rapid decline in life satisfaction among the older adults who are 85 years and above. The reasons being that they experience debilitating health conditions; increased risk of frailty, functional impairments and poor health; and this puts restrictions on their life satisfaction and also overwhelm them to such an extent that their expression of well-being is moderated (Gwozdz & Sousa-Poza, 2010).
- With increased frailty and deteriorating health comes the fear of falling which seems to be a common complaint with older adults. In order to cope effectively, they learn to discipline their daily lives by learning to accept and live with the challenges of their vulnerable and deteriorating physical condition and the loss of control at different levels such as when they fall, from incontinence and from the stigma of facing an embarrassing situation. Older adults try to be as independent as possible but are also dependent on community care. They cope with their fear of falling by strengthening their will (Mahler and Sarvima¨ki, 2012).
All the experiences, arguments and reasons stated above are the cause of development of old age homes. This is an unwanted social transformation in the society and to prevent this from becoming a permanent and established rule, the government has enacted such laws so as to punish those children who are unable to take care of those who have spent their entire life in establishing and taking care of their ill-mannered and off the track children. It is really very harsh reality that all this is done by the children to prevent drain of finances on the parents’ requirements. This attitude is paving way for unethical conduct which is not at all desirable. For any household, presence of elderly is a boon and children are turning this boon out of their houses like garbage which is collected by municipality vehicles.
Probably for such reasons, the government intended to legislate Maintenance and Welfare of Senior Citizens Act, 2007, so that children become bound legally to take a very good care of their parents if they are facing this problem in pursuing this responsibility morally.
Transformation of law with changes in society is very much necessary and otherwise also it is true. It is applicable to both positive and negative changes. Euthanasia was positive which was being hampered by the negative law. This was also improved and was done away with. Maintenance and Welfare of Senior Citizens Act, 2007 is the result of negative change in society which has to be curbed with law of positive spirit like the one which was implemented. This law was really very necessary to be implemented so as to have elderly, a respectful position in society. States like Assam, in the very recent past, have implemented the policy of deduction of salary from the government employees’ salary if in case they do not have proper care of their parents and grandparents. The deducted amount is then handed over to respective parents or grandparents for living their lives as per their needs and requirements.
From the implementation of such laws, it is evident that probably society is taking the wrong path to showcase the social development. For avoiding such path to develop it is really very necessary on the part of the government and the society as well to stop such ways to develop before they occupy a permanent place in our social norms. Government has shown its responsibility and duty by fulfilling its obligation by the implementation of appropriate laws. It is the duty of the society as well to stop such conditions to develop further and to eradicate what has already developed.
This is just one example where law was enforced to prevent negative social transformation become a part of the existing social norms. In the similar manner, there are many unethical events that are happening in our society which have to be stopped so as to have the Indian society a happy place for every age group, every gender and for every economic class to live in.
 Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India, (2011) 4 SCC 454
 Mahadevan, G. “Old-Age Homes Reflect Sorry Statistics.” The Hindu. September 20, 2015. https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Thiruvananthapuram/oldage-homes-reflect-sorry-statistics/article7670066.ece.
 S. Menezes and T.M. Thomas (2018) Int. J. Soc. Sc. Manage. Vol. 5, Issue-1: 1-4. DOI: 10.3126/ijssm.v5i1.18972
 Kumar et al., 2012; HelpAge India, 2013; HelpAge India, 2014
By Tushita Maheshwari
RGNUL 2nd Year