In India we have many laws which are intended to curb social customs like dowry.
Are laws effective at curbing social customs? Are any alternatives more effective?
Politics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people interested in governments, policies, and political processes. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
This is just my opinion but I think that legislation that attempts to engineer society to make it fit some particular opinion of what is moral only really changes observable behaviour because it doesn't really address the underlying issues of the behaviour, so people will conform to the new laws in public at least but you cannot force them to conform to the spirit in which the law was conceived. So racists are still racist and can still act on their racism just as long as they are not open about it, which itself created a barrier to true social change because now the problem becomes harder to quantify.
I think there is a danger that laws that were enacted to achieve a noble aim like race equality can become oppressive and discriminatory overtime, when the original laws fail to achieve the intended goals new even more draconian laws are enacted and so on.
The people who's behaviour you are trying to change will resent the coercion and their loss of freedom and become even more entrenched in their opinions. Also the people the laws were created to protect are told they are now safe or equal citizens but in reality people's opinions haven't changed much and the discrimination or abuse just carries on as before and they get frustrated at the lack of real change. This can be very divisive for society the US has a lot of laws that exist to protect special classes of people but is very polarised politically, especially around the issues of race and abortion.
IMO to achieve true lasting change your vision of how society should be has to complete and win out in the market place of ideas, you have to convince people your way is right and if you can't do that then maybe its a bad idea anyway.
The primary motive of the laws is to deliver justice to those who are exploited, though they also act as a deterrent for further similar actions and thus drive social reform.
Having a look at the numbers for percentage decrease over a year in the number of crimes registered under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 from here.
1995 - 6.8%
1996 - 30.9%
1997 - 16.1%
1998 - 7.8%
1999 - 1.9%
2000 - -1.2%
2001 - 13.2%
2002 - 17.2%
We can observe that there is a steady decline in the number of cases over the years (though better impact estimation methodologies can be employed).
So even though basically it is enlightened social opinion that brings about social reform, even legal bounds and incentives prove to be helpful.
I would think it is effective so long as the right time framework is chosen to evaluate the success of the law ie a matter of decades and not just years; education is another route by which social change is attempted; also through the media, and today by social media.
Such change is very difficult to quantify because getting data is difficult and expensive; this might change in the near & mid term as more and more people use social media as here large amounts of data is relatively easy to harvest; however there are hazards involved with this too ie privacy issues & political and policy manipulation.