Legal reform

Why many states are using the 1923 Goondas Act to curb digital piracy

The music industry has discovered that amending the age-old statute makes it easier to get the police to take action against people who violate copyright laws.

In mid-July, the Karnataka legislature amended its Prevention of Dangerous Activities Act, popularly called the Goondas Act, to bring digital pirates under its purview. Two weeks later, the law returned to the news. The Bengaluru police announced that it would charge two men accused of raping a schoolgirl under the same statute.

So what is this act that seems to be able to tackle both illegal music downloaders and sexual offenders?

The Goondas Act, first enacted in 1923 in Bengal, lives on in nine states in India, one in Pakistan and across Bangladesh. The law was initially intended to prevent habitual defenders from repeating their crimes through preventive detention. Typical versions of the law today allow the police to keep people in jail for up to a year, with reviews every three months.

It might seem excessive for people guilty of downloading ebooks.

Tamil Nadu takes the lead 

Tamil Nadu was the first state in 2004 to bring digital pirates under the ambit of its version of the Goondas Act. Maharashtra followed suit in 2009. Andhra Pradesh in 2010 suggested that it would also like to amend its Goondas Act to include video piracy.

These are just states that already have Goondas Acts.

Since last year, the Bengali music industry has been lobbying for the West Bengal government to introduce their own version of the Goondas Act and make music piracy a primary offence. Punjab’s music industry has been demanding this since 2006.

“Stricter laws on software piracy only help the big fish in the software, publications and music markets, which typically lobby with governments to increase their profits,” said Prashant Mali, a cyber-law advocate. “But clubbing technology-related laws and the Goonda Act is a bad idea with disproportionate punishment.”

Despite the overlap with the centre’s Copyright Act and the Information Technology Act, states have been the ones pushing for stricter controls on digital piracy. There is a simple explanation for this.

“When the companies whose digital assets are being infringed upon want to take criminal action, they have to rely on police,” said Pavan Duggal, a Supreme Court lawyer. “Since the management of police is a state subject, it makes sense for them to push for more powers to the police to cover acts relating to digital piracy.”

Hold-all act

The Goondas Act is just the sort of hold-all statute that can cover such offences without requiring too much legislative mobilisation. In a typical iteration of the act, a person can be charged if the state suspects that he or she is planning to conduct an illegal activity. This hypothetically means that anyone who possesses a pirated digital copy of any film, book, image or song – or ever used any social media – is liable to see the inside of a jail cell for a year.

“The Goondas Act was essentially invoked against people who were history-sheeters and suspects when the police couldn't find evidence to put them away for a crime they had already committed,” said Sanjay Hegde, a Supreme Court lawyer and former standing counsel of Karnataka for over a decade. “As long as the act applied to bootleggers and rowdies, the public applauded. Now that its reach is being expanded to people like us, people are pointing out its propensity to being misused.”

In 2010, Tamil Nadu admitted that it had imprisoned 675 people under the Goondas Act, its highest number since 2002.

Expanding footprint

The southern state had reignited interest in the act with its controversial 2004 amendment. The law had dipped out of use almost entirely after Independence. In 1960, the Supreme Court struck down Madhya Pradesh’s Central Provinces and Berar Goondas Act of 1946 for having an unreasonable definition of the term “goonda”.

After that, there was a decade-long lull before a host of states, starting with Uttar Pradesh in 1970, began to enact their own versions of the Goondas Act. By the end of the '80s, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and all south Indian states except Kerala had their versions of these acts.

“Those took off after the Emergency, where you had MISA [Maintenance of Internal Security Act] and the PDA [Preventive Detention Act],” said Hegde. “These laws were replicated at the state level. You might have safeguards put into the law, but they are actually not complied with and judicial redress is also not available.”

“The problem is that we are going towards a nanny state,” said Hegde. “Every government department wants to control everything a citizen does. They want teeth, but they can’t think of anything beyond detention.”

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.