, as a historical term, refers to the code of laws applied to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs in British India. Hindu law, in modern scholarship, also refers to the legal theory, jurisprudence
and philosophical reflections on the nature of law found in ancient and medieval era Indian texts. It is one of the oldest known jurisprudence theories in the world.
Hindu tradition, in its surviving ancient texts, does not express the law in the canonical
sense of ius
or of lex
. The ancient term in Indian texts is Dharma, which means more than a code of law. The term "Hindu law" is a colonial construction, and emerged after the colonial rule arrived in South Asia, and when in 1772 it was decided by British colonial officials, that European common law system would not be implemented in India, that Hindus of India would be ruled under their "Hindu law" and Muslims of India would be ruled under "Muslim law" (Sharia
Prior to the British colonial rule, Muslim law was codified as Fatawa-i Alamgiri
, but laws for non-Muslims – such as Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis – were not codified during the 600 years of Islamic rule. The substance of Hindu law implemented by the British was derived from a Dharmaśāstra named Manusmriti, one of the many treatises (śāstra) on Dharma
. The British, however, mistook the Dharmaśāstra as codes of law and failed to recognise that these Sanskrit texts were not used as statements of positive law
until the British colonial officials chose
to do so. Rather, Dharmaśāstra contained jurisprudence commentary, i.e., a theoretical reflection upon practical law, but not a statement of the law of the land
as such. Scholars have also questioned the authenticity
and the corruption
in the Manusmriti manuscript
used to derive the colonial era Hindu law.
In colonial history context, the construction and implementation of Hindu law and Islamic law was an attempt at "legal pluralism" during the British colonial era, where people in the same region were subjected to different civil and criminal laws based on the religion of the plaintiff and defendant. Legal scholars state that this divided the Indian society, and that Indian law and politics have ever since vacillated between "legal pluralism - the notion that religion is the basic unit of society and different religions must have different legal rights
and obligations" and "legal universalism – the notion that individuals are the basic unit of society and all citizens must have uniform legal rights and obligations". In modern India, Hindus and other non-Muslims in India favor legal universalism that is based not on any Hindu text but on parliamentary laws, however Muslims favor legal pluralism with sharia as the source of marriage, divorce
laws for Muslims in India.