The English word Law has two equivalent names in Indian languages. One of them is Neethi and the other Dharma. Neethi denotes the law of the land and its people. It is a code of conduct. Dharma, while it is also a code of conduct it is unwritten and personal. Dharma is not just a code of conduct or a set rule of law, it is how people, civilization, the world, and the universe should behave in this cosmic order.
This is the differentiation that was understood by the individual Indian and practiced in his day-to-day life. It is this depth of understanding that prompted John Mayne the British Judge to write thus about the Indians and their law abiding nature in the year 1878.
“Hindu law has the oldest pedigree of any known system of jurispudence, governs a race of men from Cashmere to Cape Comorin, who agree in nothing else, except their submission to it”.
Common law of the land:
It is with this understanding of the law of the land that the various kings of India ruled the country right from 3000 B.C.E to 1001 C.E and beyond. This country had a similar system of law for well over 4000 years. No other country in the world can claim such a credit.
Even though this land was divided into 100’s of small political kingdoms the law of the land i.e Neethi and Dharma were common or similar in nature.
Sovereign Vs King:
The basic factor of law in the European system of law, where the king is sovereign and he decides the law of his kingdom, for his rule. The king is above law. This is the concept of sovereignty.
Whereas in stark contrast, in India the king has no legislative powers to make a law but only to govern his kingdom based on the law of his land. The king was also subject to the law of the land and could be punished.
The profounder of the law were knowledgeable persons who from time to time wrote the Dharma Sastra which became the governing law that the king and his judges dispensed. This Neethi or Dharma Sastra system had a wide nature of comprehensive Jurisprudence with separate law of religion, community, family courts and courts for trade guilds.
British Law in India:
After the British came to India, the Indian law system which bound the land together for 4000 years was totally given a go by and the British law and the constitution have been adopted in India.
While Indian constitution laws and systems have adopted ideas from different countries of the world like Great Britain, USA, France, Canada and Russia.
it is indeed sad that we have not drawn sufficiently from the large pool of native jurisprudence systems that this land has had in practice by its people for thousands of years.
Future – Indian Law for India:
Today the Indian legal system is in shambles probably for this reason. If and when we take a major step to relook at the Indian legal system to rectify and improve it, it would do us a world of good to take a deep look at the native Indian legal system which is ingrained in the minds of the people and evolve a system based on the psyche of the people of this land.