Updated: Dec 12, 2021
- Ankush Talwar & Kamaksshee Khajuria
Dharma is the basis of the highest ideal of human life that aims for the welfare and upliftment of the people and society. As said by the Hon’ble Supreme Court, “Dharma is that which upholds, nourishes and stabilizes the society, maintains the social order and secures the general well-being and progress of mankind”. It is a binding factor that enhances sustainability and helps in the overall personality development of an individual. It is not only limited to the welfare of society but is also associated with numerous other things happening in our day-to-day life. In terms of law and justice, Dharma signifies righteousness and moral laws. It has also played a vital role in shaping the Indian Law as it exists today. Moreover, Dharma also has a close relation with Religion as it is one of the subsets of Dharma. However, despite such a close relationship between them, there is an alarming increase in the rate of religious crimes such as forceful conversions, communal riots, terrorism, etc., especially in countries like India due to its secular character. Although various legislations have been enacted in recent years to deal with such crimes, yet they are also not sufficient considering the present scenario.
In this article, we will focus on how is Dharma related to Law and Justice, what is the relation between Religion and Dharma and what role does religion play in maintaining law and order in society. Further, we will also look upon certain constitutional provisions related to religious offences and discuss some of the increasing religious crimes in India.
WHAT IS DHARMA?
The word ‘Dharma’ has derived its roots from the Sanskrit term ‘dhri’, which means “to bear, or to support”. Generally, one’s natural and inherent duty or functions towards the people and society is referred to as one’s Dharma. Broadly, it signifies the ‘right way of living’ or ‘proper conduct’ which must be followed and performed by every person during their course of life. Spiritually, it is believed that the values of Dharma are eternal, which is not bound by space or time, therefore due to this, it is regarded as ‘the ultimate way of higher truths’. According to Manu, “Dharma is a good of a man consist in harmonious coordination” while Buddha regarded it as the ‘cosmic law’ which establishes peace and order in the society. In Hinduism, the true meaning of Dharma implies duty, virtue, religion and power that upholds the whole universe. It is one of the four ends of life and it seeks to harmonize the relationship between artha and kama for the attainment of moksha. Many Hindu scholars believe that the ancient sources of law such as Vedas, Smritis or Usages, were the institutes of Dharma and therefore, the ultimate source of knowledge from which the Hindu Law has derived is nothing but the indices of Dharma itself.So, we can say that the Dharma is the soul of an individual as one cannot sustain without it and thus if every person adheres to the principles of Dharma, then nature will become favourable to human happiness.
DHARMA AS JUSTICE AND LAW
Dharma is regarded as the spiritual knowledge that manifests moral laws of nature, which are based on the principle of righteousness. Although, no appropriate terminology is existing today which is equivalent to the meaning of the word ‘Dharma’, however, it is sometimes regarded as the ‘Natural Law’ in a jurisprudential sense due to a similar meaning, aim and dogma behind the two. In the context of law and justice, Dharma can also be referred to as ‘the knowledge of the Existence’ because all the knowledge ultimately leads towards the truth. Both the concepts of law and justice are established on the principle of ‘moral righteousness’ which signifies different aspects concerning ethics, religion, etc.Dharma as justice and law can be viewed as the right observance of truth in the conduct of human life and behaviour. It is also a vital source of law that has got its validity from various customs, traditions and religious laws and therefore, many scholars even regard it as the basis of Indian Jurisprudence.
In India, Dharma initially began to develop as law with the help of Fundamental Rights, when the evolution of the Supreme Court took place in the post-independence era. It is evident from the words inscribed on the emblem of the Supreme Court of India, which says 'Yato Dharma Tato Jaya' meaning thereby, where there is Dharma, there is victory. So, we can say that the concept of Dharma is closely related to law. Also, the principles of Dharma have been highlighted by the Supreme Court for interpreting numerous cases time-to-time. In “Narayana Deekshitulu v. State of Andhra Pradesh”, Raj Dharma was compared with Constitutional Laws and an attempt was made to clear the definition of Dharma using different verses. The Supreme Court has also interpreted Article 21 (i.e., the Right to life) several times in the light of Dharma and has expanded its scope to cover all the basic human rights which a person may need to live a dignified life.
Further, Dharma is also referred to as Justice because it is the interpretation of Right, Truth and existence, which ultimately implies ‘knowledge and righteousness’. In ancient India, Law as Dharma required right elucidation of the prescriptions of Law, and that is when Dharma as Justice was considered as the “observance of truth”.
So, it can be concluded that Dharma is the foundation stone of modern law and judicial system in India and thus, signifies a very close relationship with law and justice.
RELIGION AS DHARMA AND LAW
Religion, in simple terms, is defined as the faith and belief of an individual. Although Dharma deals with the conduct of man, his relationship with his religion, his duties and beliefs in his religion, yet it is not the same as religion. Religion is derived from the word ‘relegate’, which means “the one that sends us to a lower level”, whereas the word Dharma implies “the one which elevates us to a higher level”. Moreover, Dharma lays down several principles for fulfilling various facets of life, including religion and therefore, religion is regarded as a subset of Dharma.
However, religion has a close relationship with law due to its significance in framing the laws of a country. In ancient India, people following a particular religion follow certain rules and regulations to live a dignified life, and from there, religion developed a close linkage with law. Today, India is a secular country, where every citizen is entitled to propagate the religion of his/her choice. Various personal laws and religious customs are recognised as Law by the Constitution of India and even the Supreme Court in “S.R. Bommai v. Union of India”, observed that “freedom of religion is a fundamental right of every citizen of India.” Moreover, numerous religious offences such as an act of damaging a place of worship with a malafide intention (Section 295), insulting one’s religious sentiments (Section 295A), disturbing a religious assembly (Section 296), committing trespass in a place of worship or any burial ground that causes a disturbance during funeral rites (Section 297) and even uttering words or sounds, which may outrage a person’s religious sentiments (Section 298), is punishable under Chapter XV of the IPC with imprisonment or fine or both. Therefore, this is how religion plays a major role in preserving law and order among people, especially in a secular country like India.
INCREASING RELIGIOUS CRIMES IN INDIA
Religious crimes are referred to those acts of violence which are often conducted by the followers of a particular religion against the followers of the other religions. Today, we can see that how often these religious crimes occur in India, despite such a close relationship between Religion and Dharma. Although, various legislations have been enacted intermittently to deal with such crimes, yet no desirable output is achieved so far. Therefore, it has become a major concern today which needs to be addressed strictly.
Some of these common yet heinous religious crimes in India are as follows:-
Religious Terrorism - When terrorism is used as a tool for achieving religious goals, it is known as “Religious terrorism”. Today many terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc., practice this type of terrorism to spread their religion and establish dominance all over the world and for this, they use fear, force and violence as a means to influence a large number of people to support their cause in the name of religion.
Communal Riots - “Communal or Religious riots are referred to the clashes between two or more religious groups which occur due to clashing ideologies and interests.” India has a long history of religious riots occurring in the past like the 1969 Gujarat Riots, the Anti-Sikh Riots in 1984, etc., resulting in the death of hundreds of people every year. Thus, it can be said that the true essence of Dharma is lost in the name of religion today.
Forceful Religious Conversions - Forcefully converting someone’s religion has become a major and common religious crime in India. Although, Article 25 of the Constitution ensures the ‘Right to freedom of religion’ to all the citizens of India, yet forceful conversion of religion takes place in many states like Kerala, Assam, Odisha, etc., by the dominant religious groups. These groups not only force but also manipulate people to convert their religion either by coercion, fraud or by abusing their right to freedom of religion.
Political misuse of Religion - Since religion is a very sensitive topic in India, politicians often use it as a tool for political gains by targeting the religious sentiments of communities. Thus, such a deceitful act is also a religious crime in the eyes of law. The Supreme Court while addressing the Hindutva Judgment, also stated that “if a political leader or his/her agents uses a religious speech for gaining votes during campaigning, then his/her act will be considered as corrupt and election of that candidate can be quashed.”
Unethical Journalism - Though unethical journalism is not a religious crime, however, it may act as a means to spread these crimes. Displaying National issues or information through media is an effective and faster mode to spread awareness. But presenting views in a distorted manner may create agonies among the communities, which could eventually lead to an increased rate of religious crimes in India. In 2016, one such instance took place in West Bengal, where a deity of Durga was destroyed by a mob which became a religious issue but the media was blind about it.
From the very beginning, Dharma has been the guiding principle that preaches us the right way of living life. Since Dharma has no literal meaning, some refer to it as Law and Justice while some consider it their religious duty, however, the dogma behind all remains the same i.e., to establish peace and welfare of the people and society. India is regarded as a ‘multi-cultural secular country’, where people belonging to different religious communities live in harmony with each other. But unfortunately, it is slowly losing this secular identity due to the rapid increase in religious crimes like forceful conversions, mob lynching and riots, killing hundreds of people every year. In short, we can say that Dharma is losing its identity in the name of religion. Thus, greater attention is needed and stricter laws must be made to prevent the occurrence of these crimes in future. Enforcement of a 'Uniform Civil Code' in India could be an effective solution to these problems. However, it is also the duty of every citizen to maintain unity and peace amongst each other because only then such crimes will dwindle, and Dharma will prevail.
Footnoting  Nagendra Pavana RN, Dharma - Perspectives from Ramayana, CHINMAYA VISHWAVIDYAPEETH, https://lms.cvv.ac.in/learning/course/info.php?id=248.  Ankita Sharma, Dharma and the development of Jurisprudence, RACOLB LEGAL (Aug. 26, 2016), http://racolblegal.com/dharma-and-the-development-of-jurisprudence/.  Id.  What is the true meaning of Dharma (Righteousness)?, HINDU JANAJAGRUTI SAMITI, https://www.hindujagruti.org/hinduism/hindu-dharma/dharma.  Bibhu Kaibalya Manik, Dharma as Law and Justice, SLIDESHARE (Nov. 20, 2016), https://www.slideshare.net/BibhuKaibalyaManik/dharma-as-law-and-justice.  supra note 2, at 2.  supra note 5, at 2.  Dr R.N. Sharma, The ideal of Dharma or Justice in Indian Culture, https://internet.bhu.ac.in/law/blj2006-072008-09/BLJ_2006/7_THE%20IDEAL%20OF%20DHARMA.doc.  supra note 5, at 2.  Kriti Garg, Religious Crimes in Developing Countries: Indian Perspective, 3 INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LAW MANAGEMENT & HUMANITIES 673, 2 (2020), https://www.ijlmh.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Religious-Crimes-in-Developing-Countries-Indian-Perspective.pdf.  Srishti John, Offences related to Religion, LAW TIMES JOURNAL (Sept. 7, 2020), https://lawtimesjournal.in/offences-related-to-religion/.  Wikipedia Contributors, Religious Violence in India, WIKIPEDIA (June 24, 2021, 17:23 UTC), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_violence_in_India. Id. Supreme Court clamps down on religious speeches in poll campaigns, DNA (Oct. 20, 2016, 07:55 AM), https://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-supreme-court-clamps-down-on-religious-speeches-in-poll-campaigns-2265738.
Law Student from DR. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat, Haryana
Law Student from DR. B.R. Ambedkar National Law University, Sonepat, Haryana