In India, ancient Hindu legal scholars share equal credit for developing jurisprudence and legal theory with Western jurists and legal philosophers. ‘Vyavahara Dharma Sastra’ is the name given to the ancient Hindu jurisprudence. Sir Francis Macnaughten studied the Hindu legal system, and he believed –
The merit of having been founders of their jurisprudence can’t be denied to these people, and those who are all conversant with the decisions of our courts will acknowledge the analogy which exists between some of their doctrines and some of the texts which I have cited from the Hindu Law.”
Hindu legal scholars created their indigenous legal system based on deductive reasoning and human welfare. Mayne is of the view that –
Hindu law has the oldest pedigree of any known system of jurisprudence, and even now, it shows no signs of decrepitude.”
Hindu Legal System: Sources
Shruti, also known as Vedas, is regarded as the source of Hindu law. Ancient sages regarded the Vedas as the primary source of all human knowledge. According to the ancient Indian lawyer Manu,
For those who are anxious to learn about the law, Shruti is the greatest authority.”
The Smritis includes Manusmriti, Yajnavalkaya Smriti, and Smriti of Vishnu, Narada, Brihaspati, Vashist, Gautam, and others, are the source of Hindu law in addition to the Vedas. The national and state legislatures have not enacted these Smritis. These are writings authored in ancient times by some Sanskrit intellectuals who specialized in law. Later, more writeups (called Nibandhas or Tikas) on these Smritis were produced, for example, (Commentary of Vijaneshawara who published a commentary called Mitakshara on Yannavalkya smriti) and (Commentary of Jimutvahana who authored a book called Dayabhaga) and Nanda Pandit (whose analysis Dattak Mimansa deals specifically with the law of adoption).
The Jurisprudence of Dharma and Law
The equivalent word for law in Hindu legal texts is dharma. It is, however, much broader than the term ‘law,’ encompassing religious, moral, social, and legal obligations. According to Hindu jurist Kane –
The meaning of the word dharma has changed from time to time. It is referred to privileges, rights, duties, and obligations of a man.”
Dharma is not a religion; it is much more. It has also withstood the test of time and is still relevant in modern times. The courts have interpreted Dharma in many ways based on their interpretation of various laws and statutes, and they have done so in multiple ways. In Dattatraya Govind Mahajan & Ors vs the State of Maharashtra, the court held that the constitution’s Dharma and adjudication’s Karma would take us to a society where justice will triumph. In The Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting vs Cricket Association of Bengal & Anr, the court also stated that –
moral principles, in particular, should not be allowed to be surrendered in the name of social reform or cultural integration.”
The courts have not interpreted dharma as a term that belongs to any religion. They differentiated between dharma and religion because dharma is a broader notion that includes righteousness, morality, and wellbeing. Shri A.S. Narayan Deekshitulu vs State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors. was another case in which dharma was widely explored. The notion of Sakshi (witness), Lekhya (documentary evidence), Bukhti (possession), and other Hindu old rituals are also relevant in evidence law. From civil law to criminal law to property law, Hindu legal theories are applicable and recognized in modern times. For example, the notion of Hundi, which was utilized as a negotiable instrument in earlier times, is still employed in some parts of the country. The courts have cites examples from many Hindu religious writings like Shikhandi from the Mahabharata in establishing new rights such as equal rights for transgender people.
Modern Hindu law
Following India’s independence from colonial rule in 1947, the country formulated and adopted a new constitution in 1950. The Constitution of India, since its adoption, has been amended many times including the sections related to religion. Although Article 44 of the constitution mandates a uniform civil code, Hindu law, Christian law, and Muslim law still prevail throughout the territory of India. Although Nehru codified the so-called Hindu Code Bill, the legal system witnessed only a slight change. In 1955-56, a series of four major pieces of personal law legislation form the first point of reference for modern Hindu law; these legislations are the Hindu Marriage Act (1955), Hindu Succession Act (1956), Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act (1956), and Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act (1956).
This theory’s notion is centuries old, but it has endured the test of time and is still applicable in many contemporary challenges. Dharma is a Sanskrit word that means “righteousness, morality, and wellbeing of fellow creatures.” It has nothing to do with religion. Our country’s courts have repeatedly construed the word dharma in diverse verdicts. We learn the relationship between Hindu literature and modern legislation as we study and contemplate Hindu legal philosophy. Many jurists have stated that the Hindu Legal Theory is one of the earliest jurisprudential ideas. Jurists and courts have recognized it at various times when interpreting or establishing laws. The presentation also explored the significance of the term dharma, how it extends beyond the definition of the term law, and how jurists and courts recognize it in India and worldwide.