--> Skip to main content

Nyaya – Justice In Hinduism

Unlike the Semitic religions that believe in the dispensation of divine justice, the Hindu conception of justice is rooted in the doctrine of Karma. This means that every individual would receive the fruit of his or her action either in this life or in the lives to come. This is an irrevocable law that makes a human being completely accountable for his actions. However, the ultimate goal of life is to escape this cycle of karma and its fruit through dispassionate action. According to Dharmasutras it is not the king but the knowledge texts – Vedas – and the tradition and practices of those well-versed in these texts that are the fountainhead of law. It is also stated that the administration of justice should be regulated by Vedas, institutes of sacred law, Vedangas, Puranas, the (special) laws of the countries, castes, families (not being contrary to Vedas), the usages of cultivators, traders, herdsmen, money-lenders and artisans.

The codebooks (Smritis) cite eighteen causes of disputes, both civil and criminal in nature. Those suspected would have to prove their innocence through oath or order or both. Manusmriti (VIII, 114) mentions only two kinds of ordeal – by fire and water. Brihaspati Smriti has increased the number to nine. Manusmriti prescribes that, whatever crime a Brahmin may commit, he should never be killed but only exiled (VIII. 380). Later, Kautilya prescribed death even for a petty theft by a government servant.