The first known codification of laws was under the Gupta dynasty (335-445AD; See History: Dynasties) when civil and criminal laws were clearly demarcated. On the wrong side of the law, the earliest recorded patricide is the death of King Bimbisara, at the hands of his son Ajatashatru, in 494BC.
The complex web of law is underpinned by the democratic Constitution of India that upholds equality, the sacred fundamental rights of each citizen and justice for all.
The Supreme Court of India (Sarvochha Nyayalaya) atops the High Courts and district courts is the final legal authority. The primary arbiter in the village (the smallest civic unit) is the Panchayat, headed by a sarpanch. This is an old institution of a minimum of five elected villagers.
Indian Legal System – Terminology
The following terms are part of the Indian legal system.
Property with the grant of all contained. Below the surface as well as above or on it.
The right to land derived from the first clearing away and occupying of it. From the Hindustani expression ‘abad-kari’ meaning to populate or settle.
Sanskrit. Lit. ‘A’ means so long as; Chandra is moon; Akra is sun. As long as the sun and moon endure. A perpetual tenure.
Malayalam. Father, lord. The title of royal males in Pal ghat. The minister of the former raja of Kozhikode was the ‘mangat achan’ and the minister of the second or junior Raja of Kozhikode was ‘cheruli achan.’
In Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu and the Dakshina and Uttar Kannada districts of Karnataka, the term applies to perpetual, hereditary proprietorship. In a general sense, it means ‘established custom and usage’ as opposed to anacharam.
Malayalam. Prop or support; canal or dyke; document, voucher, title deed by which property right is established.
Malayalam. Mortgage of land for a sum less than its value by a superior to a person of lower caste. Can also mean a land grant from a ‘superior’ to an ‘inferior,’ rent free.
Tamil. Wages for threshing corn.
Hindustani. A mercantile correspondent or agent.
Land granted to Brahmins either rent-free or at a low rate. In south India, a street or quarter occupied by Brahmins.
Hindustani. An order, edict, award, decree.
Tamil. Account of the properties of a person (may include properties held in trust) among the Nattukotai Chettiars of Tamil Nadu.
Sanskrit. Partition after the father’s death.
Legal term denoting immovable property.
In Muslim law, a marriage portion or dower.
Broad legal term. Business affairs, an office, collection of revenues, administration of justice, management of land or business on behalf of another. In Maratha finances, an item or head of collection; the share or portion of the revenue after the expenses and extra charges have been defrayed.
The authority to manage or administer any property. Before the abolition of Zamindari (See Zarnindari), it was an order from a zamindar to his cultivators to give possession to a renter.
Deposit, charge, anything held in trust.
Karnataka. An unrented tank or reservoir of water, not belonging exclusively to any one village, under the superintendence of government officers.
Malayalam. Lit. temple step, a seat of honour. A certain step or degree in a temple to which only particular persons are entitled. The claim is derived from ancestry but the dignity is saleable. Traditionally, it is sold only to a priest with a socially respectable background.
In Muslim law, a form of divorce. If a man says to his wife, “Your business is in your own hands,” and the woman assents, an irreversible divorce takes place (See Talak).
Lit. ‘having no Lord’; old wasteland that has remained uncultivated within memory. Orphaned.
A streedhan gift subsequent to marriage (See Streedhan).
Male issue (and not male descendants). Unless excluded by the context, an adopted son is included in the expression.
Lit.lener of permission. A deed of assent or concurrence; authorizing his widow to adopt a son.
One of the kinds of ‘streedhan’; what is presented to a woman by her husband’s family after marriage.
Mutual partition by shareholders without the presence of any other persons.
Sanskrit. Fault, offence. Apradh (Hindi), abaratam(Tamil).
Unobstructed inheritance – when property descends from father to son or grandfather to grandson. Property in which a person acquires right by birth is called aprati-bandhadaya in the Mitakshara School of law (See Mitakshara).
Lit. sonless. In law it means one who has left no son, grandson or great grandson in the male line.
Derived from Sanskrit ‘archa’ meaning idol. A priest who alone is allowed to personally attend upon the idol. His duties are those of offering worship in the temple on behalf of the community (See Religion: Hinduism).
Malayalam. A form of perpetual grant for services in a temple by which the tenant binds himself to take a fixed quantity of rice daily to a temple, which is cooked by the priest, offered to the deity and afterwards returned to the tenant.
A petition, an address, a respectful statement or representation whether oral or written.
A cultivator, tenant, renter, a non-proprietory cultivator; also a dependant. A debtor, culprit, criminal or defendant in a civil or criminal action.
Lit. placeless. An institution of ascetics or sanyasins having no worldly connections of wealth and family.
In Muslim law, a distribution of that fractional portion of inherited property that is more than the amount of shares of legal heirs.
A maternal brother or son of the same mother (born of the same womb).
Sanskrit. Lit. undivided family; avibhakta from vibhaj: to divide (See Hindu Undi- vided Family – HUF).
Shopkeeper’s ledger of revenue.
Deed of a conditional sale. Or an out-and- out sale with a repurchase clause.
Sale or barter of goods by a husband in liquidation of dower due to a wife.
A certificate of sale granted by the court after confirmation of the sale.
Hindustani. A settlement of the amount of revenue to be paid or collected. A well- known textbook example is ‘Todarmal’s Bandobast,’ about the efficient and far- seeing land revenue system organized by Raja Todarmal at the behest of Akbar the Mughal. In lay terms, bandobast means arrangement (See History: Dynasties).
Hindustani. Waste or fallow land.
Hindustani. An area under a city’s municipality where huts are built and the tenant of the land becomes the owner of the hut. Usually a slum area or a shanty- town that springs up with fresh inflows of migrant labour from rural areas to the city.
Hindustani. A division of crop between the cultivator and the landlord or the government in that capacity; rent taken by division of produce.
Earnest money or deposit.
Hindustani. Lit. nameless; fictitious, fraudulent, as in a purchase under a false name, a sale or purchase made in the name of someone other than the actual vendor or purchaser. The one in whose name it is transacted is thus the benamdar. A common practice in India, the ‘benami transaction’ has been in vogue for centuries – used originally to circumvent laws on zamindari, and later, ceiling on land holdings, or shares in a business.
Hindustani. Vyapari, behari (Kannada), a trader, man of business, merchant, moneylender, creditor, a litigant, one who engages in legal proceedings.
Hindustani. The opposite of khandani or well-born, of high status. Among Muslims calling a woman ‘beruni’ meant simply that she was of a lower tribe and lower status.
Land required for communal use vested in the government as trustees for the public except for burning and burial grounds.
Bhai Bha Tija Hakiki
Hindustani. Lit. brother=nephew- rights. A sister is included in this term to describe true siblings, often called ‘own’ brothers and sisters (See People: Kinship).
Hindustani. ‘With all rights.’
Hindustani, Marathi. A treasury or store. In Gujarat, a kind of guarantee or assurance to a creditor about repayment of a loan. Also a guarantee to a person of the undisturbed enjoyment of recognised office or property granted by the former British government to creditors and officers of the Gaekwads, former rulers of Baroda.
Those related through a female. Also known as bandhu who may be either atma bandhus (own relations), pitri bandhus or mahi bandhus (with common ancestors to a certain degree).
Hindustani. Enjoyment, possession.
Hindustani. A kind of mortgage in which a pledged article may be sold and its profit taken in lieu of interest.
Lit. ‘given bya brother.’ A form of streedhan or woman’s wealth (See Streedhan). Given bya brother to a sister on her marriage.
Hindustani. Soil. The commonest cause of litigation in India. Bhumiya is a landholder, tenant farmer or cultivator. Bhumiyas are ‘lords of the soil.’
The original (Dravidian) families who founded the village, had special privileged holdings and furnished the village hereditary officers – a term found in central Indian tribal areas such as Chota Nagpur.
Hindustani. A measure of land, with varying measures across India. A standard Mughal area measure. In upper India (north of Madhya Pradesh), it is usually3025 sq yds; in Bengal, it is 1650 sq yds. A bighadam is a village tenure (also called Bheriachara) in which the holding includes small portions of different kinds of soil.
Hindustani. A portion of seed corn which the poor are allowed to take from the field; also the portions of corn given to the village smith, barber, carpenter and washerman by each cultivator.
Hindi, Telugu, Kannada. The first money received during the day or the first ready money sale by shopkeepers. As a rule, no credit is given for the article first sold.
A holdup, with robbery as intent and threat of harm as a means of extortion. Detailed at length in Section 391 of the Indian Penal Code, Act 45 of l860.
Persian. A record, a register, the whole body of papers pertaining to an office. As we know today, the office or place of work or the rooms) where paperwork is handled.
Telugu. A small village within the limits of a larger village.
Admission to a hospital or enrolment in an educational institution.
Sanskrit. Also dandupat. The Hindu rule that no greater arrear of interest can be re- covered at anyone time than what will amount to the principal sum. It operates independantly of legislative enactment as part of the Hindu law of contract.
Lit. a measurer, meaning a broker who negotiates the buying and selling of grain in the market -place for a conunission. Dandikala means harvest time.
Hindustani. A wooden staff, physically the same as a ‘lathi,’ but classified as a deadly weapon (See History: Weapons).
Arabic. A country under non-Muslim rule, as opposed to Dar-ul-Islarn, a Muslim government.
Persian. A royal court. In India it usually means the shrine or tomb of an Islamic holy man and the focus of pilgrimage. It is a legally recognised religious institution with property and the maintenance of facilities for pilgrims. One of the best- known Dargahs in India is at Ajmer Sharif, the tomb of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chisti (See Holy Places; Sages and Saints).
Hindustani. An application, a proposal, especially an application to court, different from filing a suit such as an application for the execution of a decree or assignment of government land. In Madras, the term applies to all requests for transfer and relinquishment or for revenue petitions.
Persian. A manager, a superintendent, an overseer, particularly the head of a custom or excise station or a distillery.
Ready money transaction.
Hindustani. Writ of demand for payment of land revenue. In non-legal terminology, it signifies a knock, as at the door.
Voucher, document, any legal paper, note- of-hand, bond or title deed. Anything in writing that could be produced in evidence. Certificate of any kind.
Customary fee, conunission, prerequisite.
An anonymous legal work of uncertain date whose authority was accepted centuries ago in south India on matters of adoption. Anotherwork, Dattaea Mimamsa; (c.17thcentury) by Nanda Panditais also accepted as authoritative by courts of law since the British Raj.
A digest of Hindu law, particularly of inheritance, written by an ancient Indian scholar Jimutavahana (lit. ‘whose vehicle is the clouds,’ a name for the storm god Indra; See Hinduism: Vedic Gods). A work of paramount authority in Bengal (See Mitakshara).
Hindustani. A district (nad in Malayalarn). Under the old Hindu (Vedic) system a desadhikari was the term for a headman.
The same as a Desmukh, the headman of a ‘des’ or district in a Hindu kingdom. The term Desai is often found as a surname in Gujarat and Deshmukh in Maharashtra. Later Deshmukh came to mean a government revenue collector.
Telugu. Now a conunon surname in Maha- rashtra.
Lit. servant of god, a woman dedicated to a temple and considered married to god, a practice prevalent in south India. Now banned. (See Performing Arts: Dance – Bharata Natyam; Religion: Hinduism – Concepts).
Sanskrit. ‘What is due to the gods,’ grants of lands to temples or for religious purposes.
Marathi. Devamatruka (Telugu). Watered by rain; fields, lands, as opposed to those dependant on artificial irrigation.
Coorg. A sacred grove.
Land granted for support of a temple. The best instance is the Tirumala Tirupati De- vasthanam Trust, the body that manages the assets of India’s richest temple (See Myths and Legends).
Place of assembly, as the Dewan-i-arn, the public hall of audience of the Mughals at Agra and Delhi. Dewan, in British India, meant a revenue servant. The Dewani or Dewanny Court of Adawlut, under the British continued an ancient court tradition for trying revenue and other civil cases.
Punjabi. The total reckoning of the grain before it is divided between various points. Dhardhari means fluid, faction or party spirit, especially used in the northern villages of the Punjab.
Sanskrit, Hindustani. Law, virtue, legal or moral duty. In gifts of property by a Hindu, it means certain classes of pious gifts called Ishta and Poorta.
A place where a wayfarer has a right of residence without payment. These abound in India, supported by private and public donations, especially at places of pilgrimage. A public boarding house is not a dharamsala.
Sanskrit. Characterised by right conduct, prescribed in the Vedas and Smritisand the conduct of the good (See Philosophy; Religion: Hinduism=Concepts).
Hindustani. To sit in protest at the door of a house or building to enforce a promise, debt or redemption of a perceived wrong by the resident or occupant within. The person (or people) who sits in dharna neither eats nor drinks. This practice is made an offence by the penal law of India but is often resorted to by the public.
Persian. A royal court, a council of state, tribal of revenue or justice. A minister, a chief officer of state, an honorary title, civil officer of a district under the later Muslim administration.
The civil administration, officer of Diwan, as opposed to the Nizamat or Fauzdari, the military and criminal administration – civil as opposed to criminal (See Diwan).
Arabic. The law of retaliation, an expiatory penalty or fine for murder.
Lit. two languages, or one who speaks two languages, an interpreter, a broker. The Hindu, who at Madrasin the days of the East India Company (See History), managed the money concerns of the European.
A form of adoption, to constitute which there must be a special agreement between two fathers (real and adoptive) to that effect. The consequences of this form of adoption are different from an ordinary adoption, in that the children of the adopted sons) would revert to their natural family. Hence the adoptive father fails to perpetuate his line.
Arabic. The legal knowledge of dividing inheritance, according to Muslim law.
Arabic. A servant whose duty it is to spread carpets, now usually the person who sweeps the office.
Also Phadnavis. Lit. writer of lists and schedules, a financial secretary in old Maratha states, the best known being Nana Phadnavis, major figure in the Revolt of 1857 (See History).
Hindustani. The harvest year; of or belonging to a harvest.
Arabic. A collection or digest of judicial decisions. The best known is the Fatwa-i- Alamgiri, compiled by the orde rof Aurang zeb the Mughal, commenced in Hijri 1607 (AD 1656). It contains a vast number of recitals of law cases, though without any arguments or proofs, which have to be dra wn from the Hidayab and other works (See Hidayah).
A police magistrate in Mughal times in authority over a large district and is also a receiver-general of revenues. Faujdari was the term for his office and jurisdiction, while Faujdari Awab was an assessment of territory and revenue made by a Faujdar.
Telugu. Grass or straw. A pillow, used as a throne (Hindi) and the common term for throne; a class of Muslim milkmen in Delhi, Karnal and Ambala; also a pastoral hill community.
A former designation for a petty chief in Maharashtra.
Hindustani. Lit. ‘fortbound.’ The name of a tenure in Bundelkhand, so called from the practice of Thakurs shutting themselves up in their garhis to resist the government demand of revenue. In this way they secured very favourable terms both from the Mughal and Maratha governments. (In modern India, the ruler of a former princely state in Rajasthan, attempted a similar tac-tic, with unhappy results: his water and electricity were cut).
A community of agiculturalists in Karnataka similar to the jats in north India. ‘Gauda-manyam’ was the privileged land and fees of the village headman.
Arabic. One who takes part in ‘Ghazu’ which originally meant a plundering raid, but in the time of the prophet Mohammed came to mean an expedition against non- Muslims.
Arabic. The son of a female slave; a slave. The word is often used to form a Muslim name such as Ghulam Ali, the slave of Ali.
Karnataka. A man set to watch a field.
Sanskrit. Village, a term recognised across most ofIndia, spawning a number of terms associated with village functions and rights. A headman, for instance, is variously called a ‘gramadhikari,”gramadhipati,’ ‘gramani.’ A village accountant is a ‘gramalekhak’ orpatwari, ‘gramakanakan’ or’gra- makarnam.’ The term for battle, sangram, literally means ‘the meeting of villages’ – so fierce and bloody were the encounters between Aryan settlers searching for water and grazing lands for their cattle.
Hindu Law. A son secretly born in the husband’s house, a son of hidden origin as opposed to the Hindu practice of a woman going to her parents’ house for each delivery.
An agent or clerk in law or business.
Legally, a person too wise to worship idols.
A public place for display of athletics, a peculiarly Anglo-Indian term.
A weekly market on stated days in central and northern India. Also a daily bazaar called ‘mandi’ in some northern areas.
Arabic. In Muslim law, the partial exclusion or substitution of a share in inheritance. Where there are no children, a wife has a fourth share but where there are any, only an eighth.
Boundary, limit. A common Hindi phrase of exasperation meaning, “This is the limit!” is “Had bo gayee!” In legalese, it applies to land, as in the Telugu ‘Haddu- patrika,’ a statement of boundaries or ‘Hadd-sikandri’ which means the deep stream or main flowing channel of a river that forms the boundary for estates on opposite banks called daryabanna.
Hindustani. Weekly protection money, extorted by local gangs and corrupt law en- forcers.From saptarn or seventh, or every seventh day.
Kannada. Tax once levied on the land assigned to the village barber.
Arabic. In Muslim law, annulment or disqualification. The invalidity of acts done by someone who is under age, mentally unsound or is a slave or dependant.
One who holds a hak (right) or is entitled to a share.
A grant for the support of younger sons or of a raja’s relatives, or a lord.
A tax-collector. But Haldari specifically meant a tax on marriages.
A ploughman. Can also mean a bondsman who must labour in payment of a debt until its discharge.
Hindustani. ‘Always’ or ‘forever.’ In a will, an award or court order does not always mean perpetual interest to the beneficiary but with sufficient evidence, it can.
Also Hanefi, the first of four Sunni schools founded by Abu Hanifa (See Religion: Islam). Most of the Sunnis of northern and western India are of this school as are the Turks. It is the most conservative arid permits no modification of the old doctrine.
The overlord’s dues from subordinates.
Rights in immovable property, usually land, but can also mean house property.
Palace, mansion. Haveli-lands are crown lands, or those once reserved for the supply of privy purses to the former ruling classes.
A tenure, connected with waste reclamation. Has sub-tenures like ‘nim-hawala,’ ‘ausat-nim-hawala. ‘
A junior rank in the police, like a constable.
Presence, a muster-roll. Also chota haziri, the Hindustani term for breakfast in common usage. Hawaldar of a royal family
A gift in law, a perfect gift, one accompanied by delivery and acceptance.
An exchange gift, as when a man gives his prperty. A Hibadar is the receiver and a Hiba-naniah, the deed of gift.
A well-known law commentary by Sheikh Burhanuddin Ali, son of Abu Bakr. Its general arrangement and conclusions are taken from the Jama-i-Sugbir by Imam Mohammed. It is valued highly by Islamic scholars for its selection of law cases and the proofs and arguments given to determine them. It is still esteemed and is the subject of many commentaries.
Legally, the term includes not only those who are Hindu by religion, ie, ‘practising’ Hindus but also those who are commonly known as such (See Religion: Hinduism).