Sunday, January 13, 2008

4000 Years Separate Gandhiji and Hittites

Separated by 4000 years, what could possibly be common between Gandhiji (2000 years after Christ) and Hittites (2000 years before Christ) - the pre-Greek Indians in the Middle East? Both, the Hittites and Gandhiji, rejected Hammurabi’s “eye-for-an-eye” legal thinking and system - 4000 years apart.

Western historians glorified Hammurabi as the world’s first law giver - and Occidental-Levantine (including the Shariat) laws are based on Hammurabi’s legal code of “an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth”. Gandhiji’s famous position was “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” when asked about the Hammurabi’s “eye for an eye” kind of justice.

Hammurabi’s laws and edicts were retributive, vengeful and punishment oriented. The focus of Hammurabi’s legal system is to give a ‘fitting’ counter punishment for a defined offense. Roman law calls this lex talionis and the Old Testament advocates an eye for an eye“, (Hebrew: עין תחת עין‎) is a quotation from Exodus 21:23–27. These created a system of revenge, fueds and vendettas. The result - a fractured Europe, a rampant history of genocide, a fueding Middle East.

The alternate system in that era, 4000 years ago, was the Hittite legal system. We get an insight into the Hittite legal system from (more than) 10,000 clay seals and tablets at Boghaz-koi, unearthed in 1907-08 by Makridi Bey and Hugo Winckler and deciphered by Bedrich Hrozny during 1910-1921. These tablets and seals reveal the legal minds of the Hittites. Hittite law, different from Hammurabi laws, was based on amelioration of the effect of crime and driven less by fear of death and punishment.

The Hittites, Mittanis and Elamites (using Indo-Dravidian languages) were Indo Aryans that dominated Asia from Indian borders to European borders till 500 BC. Kassite, the other major ruling clan in Levant’s geography (apart from the Egyptians) heavily adopted Indo Aryan cultural motifs.

Hammurabi’s main rival in the Middle East arena was Rama-Sin of Larsa (ruler of Larsa) who ruled for 60 years. Raim Sin (1753?-1693? BC) of Larsa, in Sumer (modern Iraq), ruled over Sumer, Elam - present-day Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Sin is the Assyrian moon goddess (in modern Indian languages, Ram-Sin will be translated to Ramachandra). Ram-Sin assumed the title of ‘king of all lands’, blessed by Goddess ‘Nin Makh’ at ‘Opis’, his second capital in Babylonia. Ram-Sin fought for a long time an inconclusive war with Hammurabi (speculatively identified as ‘Ravana’ of the Indus seals). Ram-Sin, king of Babylonia possibly, was finally able to defeat Hammurabi in the joint action with the chief of Subartu, Hurrian and Mitanni kings. Hammurabi was killed in the fight, speculatively suggested by one of the Indus seals.

4000 years later, Gandhiji, described the western civilisation as a “good idea“. Gandhiji’s knowledge of Hittite legal thought would have been (probably close to) zero as the decipherment of Boghaz koi and other Hittite texts was ongoing and incomplete. Elaborate analysis and the commentary on Hittites and Boghaz koi came after Gandhiji’s death.

The Hittite legal revolution 4000 years ago plays out even today.

But, modern Indian law makers and jurists look to the West for getting legal ideas. Under the garb of modernisation, Indian law is becoming negative. Apart from not taking up the challenge of repealing colonial laws, the Indian Government has accepted the colonial legal system (nearly) in toto.

Possibly the best example of post-colonial, western-patterned law is the Section 498. A retributive, revengeful law (patterned on western legal models) is now undermining the very structure of Indian society - marriage. Section 498 has has taken away marriages from the social domain into the legal sphere. From being contributory, accomodative, sacred and life long, Indian marriage system is becoming extractive, adversarial, contractual and short term. Some in the West do see the value in the Indian system - but India seems to think that West is a way out!

Indian law can take inspiration from the Hittites of 4000 years and offer an alternate model to the world. A Gandhian model. The rejection of Hammurabi’s legal system by the Hittites and Gandhiji, separated by 4000 years, is not a co-incidence. Gandhiji’s response, separated by 4000 years from the Hittites, demonstrate the Indian continuity in thought and action.

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