From colony to police state? India’s new criminal laws receive dissent

West Bengal Bar Association leads resistance against authoritarian legislation; BCI issued a press release appealing to Bar Councils to not protest

A sense of foreboding hangs heavy over every citizen of India. The much-anticipated first of July isn’t a date met with anticipation, but with dread. It marks the implementation of a new set of criminal laws that the West Bengal Bar Association (WBBA) vehemently opposes, deeming them “undemocratic, anti-people, and draconian.” In response, the WBBA has called for a “Black Day” protest, a powerful symbol of dissent against a legal framework perceived as a threat to justice itself.

Colonial laws and their replacement

The claimed motive behind the soon to be implemented was to remove the repressive and regressive nature of the colonial laws, to make the laws more in connect with the judicial precedents set by the Supreme Court of India, to make India a democratic nation in the full sense while abiding by the Constitution that rules this country.

However, the laws which have been passed, are more repressive and regressive than ever, not in connect with the Supreme Court precedents and forget abiding by the Constitution, they don’t abide to the principles of natural justice or the basic rights any human has.

These totalitarian and draconian laws have sparked concerns all over the country. These laws enable governments of the day (whether at the Union or State levels) to immobilize the practice of democracy by over-broad criminalization of legitimate, non-violent dissent and opposition against the Governments, the ruling parties and the forces that back them. They also, terrorize innocent civilians and honest public servants because they put in the hands of the Government of the day unguided, arbitrary and virtually unlimited power to selectively arrest, detain, prosecute and convict practically anyone they choose, including by branding them as terrorists and as anti-national. Moreover, these laws in effect regularise extraordinary powers which should normally be available only in legitimate states of emergency as already provided in the Constitution. The effect of these laws, as currently approved, is that, once they come into effect, India will no longer be a functioning democracy. (A detailed analysis of the laws can be read here, here and here.)

The opposition to these laws

The members of the West Bengal Bar Council have unanimously resolved to protest against the three new criminal laws by observing 1st July as a Black day for lawyers across West Bengal and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, who would abstain from all judicial work on that day to organise protest rallies.

The resolution can be read here:

The Madras Bar Council has passed a resolution on August 24, 2023 objecting to and expressing anguish over naming the new criminal laws in Hindi. The advocates affiliated to the Madras High Court Advocates Association, the Madras Bar Association, Women Lawyers Association, Bar Association of George Town and Advocates of Chennai City Courts staged a demonstration demanding immediate withdrawal of the new criminal laws.

The Bar Council of India has however, appealed to all Bar Associations to refrain from protests and agitations against new criminal laws. The BCI said that it has received representations from several Bar Associations and State Bar Councils expressing concerns about many provisions of the new laws. Many Bar Associations also signalled their intention to launch agitations against the laws.

The BCI assured the lawyers that the concerns will be conveyed to the Union Home Ministry and the Union Law Ministry. It further requested all Bar Associations and Senior Advocates to specify the new provisions which are regarded as unconstitutional or detrimental.

The BCI Press Release can be read here:

It is pertinent to note that these laws, have not just sparked concerns between the legal minds of the nations but also all the citizens. Close to 3,000 signatories including Tushar Gandhi, Tanika Sarkar, Henri Tiphagne, Major Gen (retd) Sudhir Vombatkere, Kavita Srivastava, Shabnam Hashmi and several others have sought the urgent intervention of Chief Minister Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu in staying ‘anti-democratic’ new criminal laws slated to come into effect from July 1. (The details of the whole story can be read at Sabrang)

The Letter Petition can be read here:

100 retired bureacrats who have served in the top positions in the Union and State government have appealed to the Union government to defer the implementation of the the new criminal laws as well. The letter can be read here.

The implementation of these new criminal laws threatens to transform India into a police state, undermining the very foundation of freedom and democracy that the nation has painstakingly built since gaining independence. These laws do not merely infringe on individual liberties; they stand to reverse the progress made over decades in securing justice and equality for all citizens. By enabling the government to criminalize legitimate, non-violent dissent and opposition, these laws place unprecedented power in the hands of the authorities, allowing them to arbitrarily arrest, detain, prosecute, and convict anyone deemed inconvenient. This level of control is antithetical to the democratic ethos and severely compromises the principles of natural justice and basic human rights.

Moreover, the judiciary, a cornerstone of Indian democracy, is disrespected through the blatant disregard of Supreme Court precedents in these new laws. By sidelining established legal norms and constitutional principles, the new framework erodes the trust and authority of the judicial system. If this trajectory continues, India risks not only derailing its democratic freedoms but also forgoing the myriad achievements it has made in securing a just society. The impending reality of a police state, with unchecked governmental powers, threatens to dismantle the democratic structures and values that have defined the nation since its independence.


The broad opposition to these new criminal laws underscores the deep unease felt by various segments of Indian society. From the legal community, as seen in the unanimous protests by the West Bengal Bar Association and similar objections from the Madras Bar Council, to public intellectuals and retired bureaucrats, the discontent is widespread. Despite assurances from the Bar Council of India that concerns will be communicated to the Union government, the looming implementation date remains a stark reminder of the power dynamics at play. The government’s persistence in moving forward with these laws, despite such robust and diverse opposition, raises fundamental questions about the future of democracy and justice in India. As the clock ticks down to July 1st, the collective anxiety of the nation underscores a profound struggle between authoritarian impulses and the enduring fight for democratic principles.

Related :

Draconian not anti-colonial: Bharatiya Nyaya Samhita (BNS)

India’s flawed rape laws: a betrayal of equality

India’s 2023 bad laws: Impact on Individual Freedoms and Indigenous Rights in a weaponised state

New criminal laws portend great danger to democracy, says civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad

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