The Judicial System in Medieval India: An Overview of The Sultanate Period

The Sultanate Period
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Causes of the downfall of early Hindu kingdoms:

Towards the end of the 11th and the beginning of the 12th century, began the downfall of the Hindu period. Local Hindu Rajas were attacked and defeated by foreign invaders of Turkish race. Gradually, old Hindu kingdoms began to disintegrate.

The political history of this period is full of constant struggles between a few powerful States for supremacy. An atmosphere of great mutual distrust was created amongst the contending States which prevented their political unity Against the common enemy. A leadership capable of controlling and guiding the political and military talents and uniting Indians against the common foreign enemy was also lacking. The real weakness in Indian administration lay in the influence of the great feudatory families whose power and ambition constituted a perpetual threat to the stability of the Central Government. Hindu kingdoms also suffered from the prevailing caste divisions.

Among the contributory causes of the defeat may be mentioned the treachery of local individual chiefs or high officers for the sake of the power of money. The enemy took full advantage of this weakness.

One of the main secrets of the success of the Sultan of Ghazni and Ghor was the use of shock tactics, the sudden raid followed by the equally swift victorious return home. Against this, the Indian leadership was not vigilant.

Muslim social order – political theory and religion:

The social system of Muslim was based on their religion, Islam, which may be described as a reformist version of current 7th century Arabian practice. The Muslims followed the the principles of equality for men and they had no faith in the graded or sanctified inequality of caste system. Muslim religion places every man on an equal footing before God, overriding distinctions of class, nationality, race and colour. Polygamy was restricted by Islam to the taking of four wives. The Muslims adopted many habits, ways and manners of Hindus and vice versa.

The political theory of Muslims was governed by their religion, Islam. It was based on the teaching of the Quran, their religion book, the traditions of the prophet and precedent. Sovereignty in a Muslim State belonged to God. The Muslim kings in India in general regarded themselves as Gods’ humble servants. The Muslim polity was based on the conception of the legal sovereignty of the Sharia or Islamic Law.

The Quran being of absolute authority, all controversy centred round its interpretation, from which arose the Muslim Law or Shariat. But the Muslims also proliferated into many sects. Two main sects were – the sunnis, to which the Turks and afghans in India adhered, and the shias who become dominant in Persia.

The Muslim religion, modified by its Turkish and Afghan influences,was further modified by the Persian culture by which all the invaders were more or less influenced.

Historical introduction:

In the late 10th and early 11th centuries, Mahmud of Ghazni, a Muslims of Turkish race, attacked Indian from the north-west. Subsequently, Mahmud led a series of raids on North-West India plundered, destroyed the Temples and each time returned with huge wealth.

In 1191, Muhammad of Ghor attacked India, but he was defeated by Hindu Rajas led by Prithvi Raj, a Rajput hero. Next year in 1192, Mohammad of Ghor defeated prithvi Raj, a rajput Thaneswar and marched to Delhi. Thus, by the end of 12th century he established a Muslim sultanate at Delhi conquering most of Northern India.

The Sultanate of Delhi – civil administration:

The Delhi Sultanate was an Islamic empire based in Delhi that stretched over large parts of South Asia for 320 years (1206–1526).

1. Administrative Units:

The civil administration of the sultanate was headed by the sultan and his Chief Minister (Wazir). The sultan was divided into a administrative divisions from the province to the village level. A group of village constituted a pargana.

2. The administration of justice – constitution of courts:

In Mediaeval India the sultan, being head of the state, was the supreme authority to administer justice in his Kingdom. The administration of justice was one of the important functions of the sultan, which was actually done in his name in three capacities: Diwan-e-Quza, Diwan-e-Mazalim and Diwan-eSiyasat. The courts were required to seek his prior approval before awarding the capital punishment.

A systematic classification and gradation of the courts existed at the seat of the capital, in provinces, districts, parganas and villages.

(a) Central Capital – Six Courts which were established at the capital of the Sultanate.

• The kings Court – The kings court presided over by the sultan, exercised both original and appellate jurisdiction on all kinds of cases. It was the highest court of appeal in the realm.

• The court of Diwan-e-Mazalim – It was the highest court of criminal appeal.

• The court of Diwan-e-Risalat – It was the highest court of civil appeal.

• Sadre Jahan’s Court – In 1248 Sultan Nasir-ud-Dind, being dissatisfied with the chief Justice, created a superior post of sadre Jahan and appointed Qazi Minhaj Siraj to this post. Since then Sadre Jahan became de facto head of the judiciary.

• Diwan – e – Siyasat – The court of Diwan- e – Siyasat was constituted to deal with the case of rebels and those charged with high treason. It main purpose was to deal with criminal prosecutions.

• The Chief Justice Court – The Chief Justice Court was established in 1206. It was preside over by the Chief Justice (Qazi -ul – Quzat). It deal with all kinds of cases.

(b) Provinces – In each province (Subah) at the provincial headquarters five were established.

• Adalat Nazim Subah
• Adalat Qazi – e – Subah
• Governor’s Bench (Nazim – e – Subah Bench)
• Diwan – e – Subah
• Sadre – e – Subah

(c) Districts – In each districts (Sarkar), at the districts headquarters, six courts were established.

• Qazi
• Dabbaks or Mir adls
• Faujdars
• Sadre
• Amils
• Kotwals

(d) Parganas – At each pargana headquarter two courts were established.

• Qazi – e – Pargana
• Kotowal

(e) Villages – A pargana was divided into a group of villages.

For each group of village there was a village assembly or panchayat. The panchayat decided civil and criminal cases of a purely local character.

3. Appointment of judges and judicial standard:

During the period of sultans, judges were impartially appointed by the Sultan, on the basis of their high standard of learning in law. From amongst the most virtuous of the learned men in his Kingdom, the sultan appointed the Chief Justice (Qazi – ul – Quzat). Judges were men of great ability (Afzil – e – Razgar) and were highly respected in society.

Judicial reforms of Sher Shah:

In 1540 Sher Shah laid the foundations of Sur dynasty in India after defeating the Mughal Emperor Humayun, son of Babur. During the reign of the Sur dynasty from 1540 to 1555, when Sher Shah and later on Islam shah ruled over India, the Mughal Empire remained in abeyance. Sultan Sher Shah was famous not only for his heroic deeds in the battlefield but also for his administrative and judicial abilities.

In spite of the fact that Sher Shah ruled only for five years, he introduced various remarkable reforms in the administrative and judicial system of his kingdom.

His important judicial reforms, as summarized by M.B. Ahmed, may be stated as follows :

I. Sher Shah introduced the system of having in the parganas, separate courts of first instance for civil and criminal cases. At each pargana town he stationed a civil Judge, Munsif, a title which survives to this day, to hear civil disputes and to watch conduct of the Amils and the Moqoddams.

II. Moqoddams or heads of the Village Councils were recognised and were ordered to prevent theft and robberies. Police regulations were now drawn up for the first time in India.

III. When a Shiqahdar or a Munsif was appointed, his duties were specifically enumerated.

IV. The judicial Officers below the chief provincial Qazi were transferred after every two or three years. The practice continued in British India.

V. The duties of Governors and their deputies regarding the preservation of law and order were emphasised.

VI. The chief Qazi of the province or the Qazi – ul – Quzat was in some cases authorised to report directly to the Emperor on the on the conduct of the Governor, especially if the latter made attempt to override the law.

Author: Nurunnobi Sohan

Department of Law and Land Administration,

Patuakhali Science and Technology University (PSTU).

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