The concept of crime is closely related to social policy of a given time. With changes in ideologies or values, the concept of crime also changes. What is crime today may become a permissible conduct tomorrow and vice versa. For example, abortion which was considered to be heinous crime because of the immorality involved in it is no longer an offence after the enactment of law legalising abortion.
It is for this reason that the criminal law has often been considered as a barometer to gauge the moral turpitude of the society at a given time. In other words, the social standards of the society can easily be judged by studying the criminal policy adopted by it. The legislative measure to legalise abortion in certain cases sufficiently reflect the changing concept of morality in Indian society. More recently, the stringent anti-dowry laws enacted to. prevent the incidence of ‘dowry-deaths and bride-burning, and deterrent legislation against the practice of sati providing for death sentence, etc.,clearly indicates that the society is no longer going to tolerate atrocities against women and wants to assure them a dignified place in the community.
Further: crime is a relative term. That is to say, what is wrongful (crime) at one place may not be so at another place. Thus, adultery is a criminal offence in India whereas in England it is merely a civil wrong redressible by payment of compensation. This example further reflects that the concept of crime depends largely on the social values, accepted norms and behavioural patterns of a particular society at a given time.
There has been a considerable increase in crime rate in recent decades. This can be attributed to the changes in social values brought about by the modernisation and industrialization of the present society. In a society, as competitive as today’s, one is often compelled to go for ‘unfair means’ to raise one’s status in the society. That is why “white-collar crimes” have become prominent in recent times. With economic growth, our thrust for wealth and other luxuries of life has increased beyond limits which cannot be satisfied with the available resources.
The incidence of crime in western countries is far greater than that of India perhaps, because of the variance of social conditions in these countries. The factors such as greater control of family over the children and respect for morality and religion, etc., have acted as effective restraints to reduce the incidence of crime in India. This leads us to the conclusion that criminal law is an index of socio-economic progress of the society. Modem criminologists even consider increase in crime as a symptom of social progress.