The Language of Law – I

 The Language of Law

In India State assumes a central role as the final arbiter of disputes, agency of social change and provider of social justice.  Ironically the State itself is a nebulous incomprehensible entity, where neither the subjects nor the rulers can certainly predict the integral moves of this highly beleaguered entity. As we acknowledge this problem we draw an analogy – Consider a Central Processing Unit of a Computer, there are two roles that it has been allotted:

  1. To process information received by the other limbs of the system
  2. To communicate information to the other limbs of the system.

If the State deals with all the institutions within itself (Courts, Intelligence Agencies etc) and outside of itself (Universities, BCCI, Cooperative Societies), what is the language of such communication? (It is advised to pause here and reflect at the deep implication of this question). The answer is presentation – The language of Law.

Anyone who is to any instant aware of this malady called public reasoning, where the nation comes together and reasons on the truth and falsity of certain issues. We are constantly bombarded with terms like ‘Liberty’, ‘Sovereignty’, Citizenship’, ‘Sedition’, Treason’ etc during this discourse. What is the primordial origin of these words and what is the pure meaning of them? What did they mean before they were dragged down on the streets as weapons of power and attained the tone of tyranny and dogma? To find these answers we need to go beyond the present use of these words to the language in which they have been coined and described – the language of Law.

In this respect we propose two categories

1) The Language of Law – where words assume meanings within an empowered framework. i.e The Constituent Assembly drafting the Constitution.

2)  Law as Language – where law itself assumes the status of a language with its peculiar vocabulary and grammar as a means for societal discourse. i.e – The language civil and criminal courts – ‘adjournements’, ‘Prosecution’, ‘settlement of matter’ etc.

Moving on to the classification of the language of law (1) above.

a) Law as a Command of the Sovereign:

If we divide society into the powerful and powerless, and we assume that the State in each society usually serves the purpose of the Powerful, then law becomes the instrument of the Powerful to dominate the powerless. And in this we witness the language of law which has the tone of command. The category of words like ‘Sovereignty’, ‘Order’, ‘Penalty’, ‘Decency and Morality’, ‘Sedition’, ‘Treason’, ‘Integrity’,  ‘Punishment’ you can be sure that they dictate the commands of a sovereign body to impose a sanction against the people. It is the baritone of a body that does not want to convince you of these values but obey them regardless of your subjective outlook. This is power as it is – cold and unsympathetic.

b) Law as subaltern language

The language of resistance also finds its place in law.  A constitution of nation post a movement by the victimized and the oppressed is riddled with terms like Liberty, Justice, Freedom, Equality, Human Rights and Empowerment. These are the words of resistance, a language not cold and monotonic but that of impatience and resistance. These words resonate with a restless energy that can disturb the established order. Activism of Human Rights as the interruption of language appropriated by agents of status quo.

A very complex of synthesis of words of these two languages of laws provides us with legal framework which is the mode of communication of the State with itself and with its subjects.  By using these simple categories one can surely understand the inception of legal jargon thrown at once face and study it as it was intended in its purpose, a little academic tool for the scholar in you.

The contemporary discourse in legal vocabulary is heavy sure demands a deeper understanding of words which in their popular dispensation are ideologically charged and semantically overladen. No wonder the public discourse has perverted to words like ‘adarsh liberal’ and ‘adarsh bhakt’. This is really a symptom of our hyper emotional state as a nation and the deep bitterness and distrust among the factions of our society, and every coming day it is becoming more and more palpable.  We witness a Nation in flux.

This attitude reminds of a quote by the great Hindi Poet Hazari Prasad Dwivedi

“अगर दिल भरा हुआ है और दिमाग खाली है फिर शास्त्रों में रुचि नहीं रह थी”