The court of public opinion and the practice of restorative ordeals in pre-modern india

Journal of Indian Philosophy 38 (1):25-38 (2010)
Abstract
According to their standardized treatment within the Indian legal tradition (Dharmaśāstra), ordeals (Sanskrit: divya ) are supposed to occur, under certain circumstances, when one person formally accused another of some crime in a court of law. While not disputing the general accuracy of this standardized treatment of ordeals, this article argues for the widespread practice in pre-modern India of another—hitherto unrecognized—type of ordeal that fails to fit this basic scenario, for such ordeals would occur when someone was widely believed to have committed some wrongdoing, but was not forced to stand trial in a formal judicial court. In order to prove his innocence and, thereby, mitigate the damage caused by his suspected guilt, such an individual could—and sometimes did—arrange for himself to undergo an ordeal at his own expense and independently of any formal plaint. After establishing the practice of ordeals of this sort in pre-modern India, this article then examines some possible explanations for their development.
Keywords Dharmaśāstra  Law  Ordeal
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