Justice and Laws in Ancient India: Ancient India consisted mostly of the Hindus. Consequently, the ancient laws stemmed from the ancient religions as well as social practices of the Hindus. The ancient Hindu social system was characterized by the caste system and the joint family system.
The four major castes in which the ancient Hindu society was divided were:
(1) Brahmins or the priestly caste
(2) Kshatriyas or the warriors
(3) Vaisyas or the merchants and lastly
(4) the Sudras or the workers
Initially, caste was based on a person’s occupation. Hence, it was somewhat mobile. Subsequently, however, this caste system became highly rigid in character and then inter-caste mobility was strictly prohibited.
The law in ancient India was not a proper codified one. This was because it was based on religion. Hence the law which was applied was of the various religious texts as well commentaries written on them. This provided a strong opinion of laws given by experts.
Justice and Laws in Ancient India
The law was administered by the learned Brahmins and the ministers of the King. In fact, the King used to even appoint lawyers in order to decide a particular matter. In the rural areas, however, it was the Panchayats who decided a case. These Panchayats usually consisted of the elderly members of the village.
Ancient India employed the term ‘Dharma’ to signify the concept of law. This law was comprehensive in character. This was because it brought under its orbit the laws of physical science, and also social laws which the experience, wisdom, and intuition of highly developed personalities could discover as unalterable. The body of laws or ‘Dharma’ was traditional in character.
Hence, from that point of view could not be altered by direct changes introduced by the State. In spite of this, the law was continuously being made by the judges through interpretation. The institution of justice depended much on the part played by the jury. This jury was appointed from members of the society having proven character and command over the law. All cares were taken to keep the judiciary free from the influence of the monarch and other powers of vested interest.
Ancient Indian Laws and Punishments
The procedure of criminal law was equally significant. No one was exempted from punishment. Further, it was also prescribed that if persons of a responsible position and social status and officers in the administration commit an offense they were required to undergo punishment more severe than that meted out to an ordinary citizen committing the same offense. Ancient India had stated very much in detail about criminal justice and judiciary system.
The Concept of Justice in Ancient India
However, to date, no author has as yet made an attempt to collect all the available materials from the administration of criminal justice as prevalent in ancient India. A detailed treatment of different stages of the trial, such as judges and different types of courts, laying down of a full procedure for trial, and the pronouncement of judgment has found a place in this work enhancing its value as a sourcebook.
Different types of evidence such as a document, witness, and conduct have been analyzed. In fact, the ancient Indians formulated a clear-cut definition of ‘Crime’ starting from defamation and ending with criminal assault. Additionally, it also prescribed appropriate punishments for those crimes.