Sundeep Bhutoria

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ess bee

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Look out - for the loony laws

Law is a serious matter but the fact that it can also be silly, stupid, strange, crazy and bizarre is something that I had no idea till I read in the news last week that France had repealed a 200-year-old law that forbade women from wearing trousers in Paris – the capital of high fashion.
I find it incredible that such a law was in force despite repeated attempts to repeal it. Finally, on January 31, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France's minister of women's rights, made the official announcement that it was finally done away with. Ladies in France can now wear trousers without facing arrest.
This reminded me of my close brush with the Canadian law in April 2010 while entering Montreal. A lady officer at the immigration section, who saw an apple in my hand, asked for it and said that since I was not hiding it she was sparing me this one time from fining $200. Clueless, I asked the officer – “Why so?” She said, “We don’t allow apples,” and gave me a cold look that made it obvious that she wasn’t used to being questioned. Wow! A $200 fine for carrying an apple, I was speechless.
Richard Happer's book The Law is an Ass uncovers over 250 craziest laws across the world. Almost every country has its share of wacky, loony laws but USA is the undisputed leader. How else can anyone explain a Texas anti-crime law that requires criminals to give their victims notice, oral or written and 24 hours in advance, of the crime they're planning to commit and the nature of that crime.
And while these laws may never be enforced, they are still legally valid because no one has bothered to repeal them. Most of these laws are so old, lawmakers themselves aren't even aware that many of them exist. The Blue Laws enacted to enforce religious standards in the US and prohibit certain behavior on Sundays or "God's Day" can honestly numb your senses.
Modern laws too can be equally, if not more, strange. Japan, the land of gargantuan Sumo wrestlers, has a law forbidding men and women of over 40 years from having a waist measuring beyond 80 cms and 90 cms respectively; it is illegal in Thailand to leave your house without wearing underwear; Switzerland has a law that says it is illegal to flush a toilet in an apartment building after 10 pm; it is against the law to drink water in a beer parlour at Saskatchewan, Canada. On the other side, there are instances when certain acts aren't illegal. For example, it is not against the law in Denmark to escape from prison.
As one reads on, the list evokes amusement and concern. These laws may trap the clueless travellers visiting foreign lands. Especially laws pertaining to decency, public nuisance or religion. Chewing gum in certain public places in Singapore can land you in jail.
During one of my visit to Singapore I had noticed a sign on public transport - No durians. I was told that consuming or even carrying durians - a highly odorous fruit - in countries like Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia can invite punitive action of the law.
India thankfully, given the huge Constitution and an elaborate criminal penal code, is by and large free of such laws. However, there are few that raise concern. As per Section 309 of IPC, attempted suicide is a punishable offence. If you succeed you die, if you fail you face arrest.
On a serious note, Section 497 of IPC holds that only a man can be proceeded against and punished for adultery. Though it takes two to commit one, the woman, according to our Indian law, is completely immuned to any charges of adultery.
ess bee

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