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Kantaka Sodhana – Criminal Justice In Ancient India

Kantaka Sodhana, literally means “removal of the thorns”, is used with reference to criminal justice in ancient India. In his Arthashastra (iv.1), Kautilya mentions the cases that are subject to kantaka-sodhana. These are – theft, murder, burglary or forcible entry, trespassing, black marketing, poisoning, illegal coining, injury to property, criminal negligence, violation of caste rules, boycott and other acts of workers and laborers, plotting to control the prices, hoarding of food articles and thereby creating artificial shortage, and fraud in weighting and measuring.

The main objective of kantaka Sodhana was to allow people to live in peace and abide by the laws as envisaged in Dharmasastra. The system of justice was not expected to be harsh. For instance, no suspect (sankitaka) was to be arrested after an interval of three days from the supposed commission of an offence except on strong proof of his guilt. Arrest on mere suspicion is not allowed.

Abetment was punishable, such as supplying a murderer or thief with food, clothing or a place for hiding or giving information and advice. Sale of goods without license and stocking of goods (for sale) in unauthorized places was punishable by confiscation. Adulteration of goods of all kinds was also punishable.

Security of life and property was the charge of pradeshta, who was the chief lawkeeper, assisted by lower officials at the village and city level called gopa and sthanika. Fear of severe punishment kept the people under eternal vigil and thus ensured their safety and security.