System of law


Kautilya did not view law to be an expression of the free will of the people. Thus sovereignty – the authority to make laws, did not vest with citizens. Laws were derived from four sources – dharma (scared law), vyavhara (evidence), charita (history and custom), and rajasasana (edicts of the King). In case of conflict amongst the various laws, dharma was supreme. The ordering of the other laws was case specific Rajasasana ordered the relationship between the three major social groupings – the citizen, the association, and the state. The constitutional rules at the state level were specified in the rajasasana but the constitutional rules at the level of the association were to be decided by the members of the association. The collective choice and the operational level rules of the association were also decided by the members of the association though the state did promulgate laws to safeguard the individual member from the tyranny of the majority in the association. Arthasastra outlines a system of civil, criminal, and mercantile law. For example the following were codified : a procedure for interrogation, torture, and trial, the rights of the accused, what constitutes permissible evidence, a procedure for autopsy in case of death in suspicious circumstances, what constitutes defamation and procedure for claiming damages, valid and invalid contracts.