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Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Indian legal history

 The Arthashastra and the Manusmriti are two ancient Hindu texts written in Sanskrit and thought to date from as early as 200 BCE. The Arthashastra (Science of Prosperity) is a practical guide for kings, offering advice on how to maintain power and create a strong state. The Manusmriti (Recollections of Manu) is a set of rules or codes supposedly derived from Manu, mythical founder of the human race. It is more concerned with moral and social behavior and duties than the Arthashastra. The Arthashastra and the Manusmriti resulted the customary laws of India. 

Aristotle believed that legislation must be in harmony with natural law. He advocated a form of constitutional government by the people. India in 2nd century, by contrast, favored a strictly hierarchical society divided into castes, as advocated in the Arthashastra and Manusmriti.

The Arthashastra and the Manusmriti portray that Indian society to be divided into four varnas (castes), a hierarchy based on ritual purity. The purest were the brahmins (priests), followed by kshatriyas (rulers and warriors), vaishyas (merchants and farmers), and shudras (laborers). It was believed that to be born into a particular caste was a reward or punishment for actions performed in a previous life. Both books forbid mixing between castes. Although neither text functioned as a law code, each describes strict rules and punishments for every part of life.

The Manusmriti took on a new significance in the late 18th century, when the British rulers of India interpreted it as a definitive legal code for Hindus, equivalent to Sharia law for Muslims. It was translated into English under the title Institutes of Hindu Law and used to formulate laws for Britain’s Hindu subjects.

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