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“Justice in Hinduism”

Neufeldt, Ron.
June 4, 2015

Source: (2001) In The spiritual roots of restorative justice, ed. Michael L. Hadley, 143-160. With an introduction by Michael L. Hadley. SUNY series in religious studies, ed. Harold Coward. Albany, New York, USA: State University of New York Press.

Neufeldt addresses the question whether Hinduism has anything to offer to restorative justice. To answer this, he focuses on issues of justice in light of classical developments in Hinduism, with particular attention to the dharma or religious-legal literature (especially the Laws of Manu). (As Neufeldt notes, the legal system in India today is not the traditional based on classical texts; rather it is the judicial system adopted from the British.) The concept of dharma is central to classical Hinduism’s view of law. Dharma refers to eternal laws, with divine sanction, that govern the universe, including the conduct of humans. Hence, dharma often means duty or obligation, or the totality of duties of individuals in society, according to one’s status in life (the caste system). A closely related concept is karma, or the law of karma. Karma signifies a kind of impersonal moral causation; a person’s acts live on, so to speak, to determine his or her current and future well-being or lack of well-being (including the next life in the cycle of rebirth). The legal literature also indicates that political and judicial authorities would adjudicate wrongdoing (crimes) and administer punishments. Punishments, covering a scale based on both the seriousness of the offense and the caste status of a person, could range from compensation to bodily mutilation to execution. All of this would be in addition to any karmic consequences. Karmic consequences of wrongdoing (sin) on the perpetrator could be dealt with or cleansed by penance ordered by religious authorities.


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