Trace the history of jurisprudence in India

order! order!

Bang in the middle of New Delhi, next to the Pragati Maidan Metro Station, lies a unique repository of India’s ancient legal heritage and mementos of the journey of our present judicial system.

In the northern periphery of the sprawling Supreme Court complex, a circular building - sporting the same facade as the SC itself - serves as the Supreme Court Museum. The first floor gallery depicts the history and evolution of jurisprudence in India – right from the time of the Harappans to Ashoka, and the basement gallery portrays the development of the British Federal Court and later, the Supreme Court of India.

The idea of a judicial museum was first conceived in 1994 by the then Chief Justice of India MN Venkatachaliah. The foundation stone was laid by CJI AM Ahmadi, and the building was completed in 2001. Curator Rajesh Prasad informs us, “The museum was set up with a view to preserve and display rare objects, artefacts, manuscripts, documents and photographs depicting our legal legacy. Since the time of conception, we have been collecting items of importance from subordinate courts, jails and even private collectors across India. Today, we have over 500 such specimens and showcase it to thousands of visitors every year.”

The museum provides a great understanding of how the tenets of law developed in India. Long before the codes of justice were laid down in words, these were passed on in the form of oral traditions (sruti) and in memory (smriti). These translated into Vedas and dharmashastras respectively. The earliest treatise on theory of jurisprudence in India is Chanakya’s Arthashastra (300 BC). After the advent of Muslim rule, the Quran, Shariat and farmans issued by kings and nobles became the holy books of Indian judicial law. Copies of all these – the Arthashastra, Quran and various deeds and farmans - are displayed here.

The British brought about the Federal Court in 1937 – the precursor to the Supreme Court of India. Photographs depict the glory of the then Federal Court – judges Shah Muhammad Sulaiman, Sir Srinivasa Varadachariar and Sir Maurice Gwyer posing for shutterbugs. Even furniture sets, inkpots, uniforms and wigs used by them have been preserved. Papers pertaining to landmark trials of the Independence movement of India - such as impeachment of Warren Hastings, Lokmanya Tilak’s defence speech when tried for sedition and removal of Mahatma Gandhi’s name from the rolls of barristers - have been showcased.

Among the more recent displays, there are photographs and files related to the Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain case, Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, the Mandal case etc. The museum also conducts interesting exhibitions from time to time such as the ‘Trial of Bhagat Singh’ and ‘Alipore Bomb Conspiracy Case.’ Do not miss the films screened by the museum on the history of Supreme Court and judicial heritage in the country.

They are educative as well as entertaining.

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