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Everything you wanted to know about legal absurdities

Prasenjit Chowdhury

Anna supporters dont realise that wearing a Gandhi cap to express solidarity with Annas cause at Ramlila Ground or elsewhere constitutes an offence under the Prevention of Seditious Meetings Act, 1911. During the days of the Raj, this statute proscribed wearing a Gandhi cap as a mark of sedition. Of course, no one now gets booked, but the clause remains a century down the line. You ranted about why Section 377 of the IPC, enacted in 1860, criminalised homosexuality as unnatural before Delhi high court decriminalised it in 2009. You must also wonder why our adultery laws are so shamefully sexist. But take heart in the thought that across the world there have been many laws real or imagined which are so absurd theyve evoked rambunctious laughter. Trawling the Web, i found lists of many hilariously funny (and non-compliable) laws, some urban legends, some still in vogue. For instance, in Greene, New York, they say its illegal to eat peanuts and walk backwards on the sidewalk when a concert is on. A law in Texas is said to require that criminals give an oral or written notice (explaining the nature of the offence) of 24 hours to their intended victims. That reminds you of the tradition of thuggery in Bengal when dacoits used to serve a notice to the household prior to mounting an armed raid. In Los Angeles, it appears a man may legally beat his wife with a leather belt or strap, but the belt couldnt be wider than two inches unless he had his wifes consent. In St Louis, an on-duty firefighter apparently cant rescue a woman wearing a nightgown. That boils down to saying that a woman in a state of undress cant be rescued. If in Tucson women shouldnt wear pants, in Racine, Wisconsin, you dont wake a fireman when he is asleep. In South Africa, you need a licence to have a television. In Canada, you shouldnt water your lawn while it is raining. According to an Alberta law, a bicycle rider has to give a signal by his hand while taking a turn; at the same time the law says he must keep both hands on the handles all the time while riding. In Switzerland, they say you mustnt flush the toilet after 10 pm if you live in an apartment nor hang your clothes to dry on Sunday. In Italy, a man may be arrested for wearing a skirt. In California, animals are banned from mating publicly within 1,500 feet of a tavern, school or place of worship (Indian street dogs are very shameless on this account). In Charleston, all carriage-horses, its claimed, must wear diapers.

If someone knocks on your door in Scotland and requires the use of your toilet, youre apparently obliged to let him enter. They also say you could murder a Scotsman within the ancient city walls of York, provided he is carrying a bow and arrow. Last but not least, its apparently illegal in the UK to die in the Houses of Parliament. In India, the funniest thing about many laws is their ancientness. The Commission on Review of Administrative Laws in a 1998 report had identified 1,300 outdated statutes, of which only 200 were repealed. Apart from the much-bandied-about Land Acquisition Act of 1894, we are carrying forward many laws that go back more than a century Rent Recovery Act (1853), Societies Registration Act (1860), IPC (1860), Police Act (1861), Carriers Act (1865), Evidence Act (1872), Indian Trusts Act (1882), Transfer of Property Act (1882), Bankers Books Evidence Act (1891), Indian Post Office Act (1898) and the Indian Stamp Act (1899), to name a few. But the hoariness of our civilisation is our badge of honour. So our century-old laws shouldnt be cause for wonder.