Article authored by Aadithya K. Jose, law student from Ramaiah College of Law, Bangalore
Custom is nothing but a traditional and widely accepted manner of behaving or doing something specific in a particular time, place, or society. For example, it has become a custom to play Secret Santa during Christmas as it adds to the season’s spirit. There are no laws that dictate that we must do it; it’s just something expected. Customs are very similar to norms or rules as they help in setting a standard for our behaviour.
Importance of Customs
Customs play an essential role in maintaining social harmony. Shaking hands, bowing, or showing Namaskar (especially in India and considering the pandemic) are various customs to greet a person. These vary from place to place and time to time; also, in societies, it’s the western custom to shake hands and Indian custom to do a Namaskar.
Over time, customs become the law of social life. It brings forth a discipline in society, making it a substantial part of acting as an agency of control.
Developments of Custom
Socialists have identified custom as an agency that supports the social bonds and structure of society. Families have always had the custom of getting together for special occasions or festivities. As you all are aware, a family is an immediate society an individual interacts and socializes in. Hence, this leads to social bonds and the formation of a society. Various customs are followed and are carried on by each individual.
Custom and Laws
Customs are like hand-me-downs which one follows with or without the knowledge of why it is done. But definitely, it regulates one’s behaviour in society. As time evolves, some customs do form the base of laws which are called customary laws, whereas some customs are left behind. It depends on the need of the hour, which custom has a path ahead. We can take the example of the Sati system that existed in India. It was a custom followed by widows to avoid being exploited by other men around. But as time passed, it was no more needed as women started getting independent and more confident; it became a custom that was being forced on women. Hence, it had to be abolished.
Customary law refers to obligations arising out of established practices. Internationally, two examples of customary law are the doctrine of non-refoulment and granting immunity for visiting heads of state.
Customs is given a status of law under Article 13 of the Constitution of India. A custom or usage if proved, would be law in force under this article. Their customary rights having the force of law can be taken judicial notice by courts under Section 57 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
Practices for a long time in society turn into customs. A custom always sets basic norms for social interactions. It sets an expectation of behaviour from a far-fetched stranger to an immediate family member. Hence, acting as an agency of control.