National Seminar on Hindu Jurisprudence: Texts and Its Evolving Concepts

It is well-known that the Indian judicial system and law has borrowed many of its ideas from the ancient Hindu laws. When an approach is made to understand Hindu laws, like other religious laws, the sources of these laws are many and diverse. One has to look at different texts such as the Gita, Vedas, Manu and instances from other holy books and mythology to understand the laws in its totality. However, not all of the laws can be said to be in accord with each other. Thus, a unique feature of the Hindu law has been its codification where the laws have evolved to make space for a combination of all the ancient texts. This seminar centered on the philosophy of the Hindu Law, its evolution, epistemology, the modern transformation and so on.

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India Foundation, in collaboration with Indian Council for Philosophical research (ICPR), organized a 3-day national seminar on Hindu Jurisprudence: Texts and its evolving concepts, held at the Indian International Centre- Annexe, New Delhi from May 16-18, 2016. About 30 speakers presented their papers at the conference on the theme, and the audience entailed of scholars, researchers, lawyers and students. Justice L Narasimha Reddy, retired Chief Justice of Patna High Court, delivered the inaugural address where he emphasiszed that the entire edifice of Hindu Law rested on the foundation of Dharma. The idea of Dharma was a larger, more wholesome concept of which law was just a small part. He focused on the relevance of some precepts of ancient Hindu law for modern times and urged researchers to undertake a more thorough study of the Dharmashastras to improve the current legal system.

The seminar contained a total of eight technical sessions with paper presentations focusing primarily on Hindu law and its evolution, the pros and the cons, and its application in modern Indian law.

The first of these eight sessions traced the historical evolution of the Hindu laws and code bill. The session emphasized also briefly on the history of law in India through a legal, social and historical perspective. The role of Hindu laws as mentioned in the ancient Hindu texts such as the Vedas and the Manu in shaping of the modern law in India was evaluated.

The second technical session focused on the concepts of Marriage, divorce and Widow Remarriage as in the ancient Hindu laws. The ancient Hindu laws are said to have detailed codes and decrees on the relationship between a man and a woman, marital or otherwise. This session comprised of a range of issues related to marriage, including women’s rights before and after marriage, divorce and death of the husband. The discourse around the process of marriage and eligibility, dowry, and touched briefly upon alimonies, maintenance and compensation was discussed, including the innate sexism in some of the laws as well the gender equality in some others as formulated in the Vedas and the Manu.

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The third session held on day 2 was highly interrelated to the previous session on Hindu marriages. This session had more speakers present in depth analysis of the maintenance and succession policies under the Hindu law. The rights of the woman after being divorced or widowed as well as the rights of the children as successors were highlighted. Progressive laws such as alimony being provided by wives to unable husbands and loans being waived off to children of deceased indebted fathers were particularly emphasized.

The subject of the fourth session was Adoption and Inheritance. The discourse on adoption has been a product of various changes and amendments both in ancient Hindu law and modern Indian law. From the concept of Niyog to the concept of adoption, from sole rights of the father over the adopted child to equal rights being granted to the mother, from preference of a male heir to adoption of female children, the adoption law has come a long way. Hindu law is the only law that grants adoption as a personal right, albeit not as a fundamental right. Moreover an adopted child is also given equal rights of inheritance under law.

The fifth technical session entailed a comparative study of Dharma and Artha tradition. The papers in this area mainly dealt with the idea of crime and justice as conceptualized in the ancient texts. A philosophical approach to the theory of law and justice was undertaken. A detailed analysis of different crime in the Vedic times and their respective punishments or dandas, and the apparent casteism in each of these laws was also presented. The idea of Dharma was approached from the predicament of the character of Draupadi from the Hindu mythology, her questions to the sabha on man’s rights on his wife and his dharma being juxtaposed as the dilemmas of modern day law.
The contributions of Maharaja Sayaji Rao Gaekwad through his seven progressive laws such as Widow Remarriage Act, Hindu Guardian Act etc., were also recited. The pros and cons of the constitutional religious freedoms in India and the “doctrine of essentiality” were discussed, generating very interesting conversation among the panel and the audiences.

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Session 6 focused broadly on the sources of Hindu law. An analysis of the epistemological foundation of jurisprudence was attempted. A presentation was undertaken on the patriarchal nature of the Hindu law and its significance in women’s access to property rights. The deleted section of the Hindu Succession Act, for instance, prevented a married daughter from getting parental property. The amendments, however, have ensured equal rights for men and women. There was also another paper that focused on the origin and evolution of Hindu law.

IMG_0681-300x200 IMG_0455-300x200IMG_0665-300x200IMG_0677-300x200The sessions were concluded with a valedictory session, starting with Shri Ram Madhav (Director, India Foundation) delivering concluding remarks where he emphasized on a need for development of Hindu Law through research and scholarship. Followed by him, Chairperson of National Commission for Women Ms. Lalitha Kumaramangalam discussed the issues of women with regards to the Hindu Law, and highlighted the importance of changing interpretation of laws. Shri V. K. Dixit presented his scholarly paper which discussed the British influence on Hindu jurisprudence, discussing the various ideologies of several influential thinkers of the pre-independence and independence era. The seminar saw an end with a gratitude speech delivered by a member of India Foundation and a high tea, followed by the distribution of certificates to the presenters and the participants.