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Arthashastrization of Hindu Law

Purushottam Agrawal

By Ashutosh Dayal Mathur
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2007, pp. xxxii 251, Rs. 595.00


The book under review is a modified version of the author’s Ph.D. thesis submitted in 1997, and has taken a full decade to appear in print. The author, far from being distressed at this delay, is actually ‘glad’ that it ‘has taken so much time to appear as a book’. He notes in the preface, ‘This period has witnessed a change in the perception of “scholars” on cultural issues. From a rigid and uncompromising opposition to tradition as against “modernity”, they have moved to a more understanding attitude towards “traditional” societies. Good. I might just escape being accused of fanning any communal or fundamentalist agenda or of being inspired by a false nationalism.’   Yes, indeed there is some ‘change in the perception’, but only to a very limited extent. Werner F. Menski observes in his study of Hindu Law, ‘Various myths exercise a powerful influence in this field . . . the subject is not only extremely complex but also politically loaded’ (Hindu Law: Beyond Tradition and Modernity, 2003, p. xvi). This is true not only of the field of Hindu law, but anything ‘Hindu’. The very idea of the ‘Hindu’ is a contested one. We are told that ‘Hindu’ is just an ‘imagined’ tradition and community (as if the others are God’s own, ‘real’ creations!). The ‘imagined’ (that is, transformed in the historical process) nature of Hindu tradition and community, far from being taken as a sign of its historical evolution is held out as a sign of the term ‘Hindu’ being academically untenable and politically reactionary. Menski rightly reminds us that in order to objectively evaluate the process of the historical transformation of Hindu tradition, ‘academic censorship needs to be resisted in this age of political correctness’. And, as we all know, self-censorship (particularly of the politically correct variety) is the worst of all. It is indeed heartening that Ashutosh Dayal Mathur has finally chosen to publish this significant work, in which he succeeds in exploding many myths without losing his grip on the complexities of the subject.   The foundational myth determining the academic approach to things Hindu is expressed most eloquently in Louis Dumont’s well-known phrase: ‘Homo Hierarchicus’. Underlying this phrase is the notion of ‘an absolute distinction between power and hierarchical status’ which according to Dumont, was established ‘some eight centuries before Christ’. Dumont finds Hegel as having gone further ‘than many a more recent author’ as ...

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