Most of us learn our History through school textbooks, and considering the way they’ve been written, it is no surprise that most people believe that many things we have today are gifts of Islamic rule.
One such misconception is about Police system. In this article, we’ll take a look at the history of Police system in India from Ancient times to just before Islamic rule began in India. The Need for a system to maintain law and order was felt by ancient Indian philosophers long ago. The main purpose behind such a system was to avoid the situation of Matsyanyaya.
Matsyanyaya literally means the law of fish, or in simple words, ‘Might is Right’. This situation occurs whenever there’s a lapse of authority due to reasons like invasion, famine, war etc.
This situation actually occurred in the time period between the decline of Mauryas and the rise of Guptas. Wave after wave of foreign invasions resulted in total collapse of law and order situations resulting in lawlessness, riots and anarchy. This situation also finds mention in Arthashastra of Kautilya and Shanti parva of Mahabharata.
Apasthamb Dharmasastra Mentions that King should appoint honest and truthful officers for protection of society against theft, murder and adultery. This can be considered as one of the earliest mentions of police system in India.
Sometime later, Chanakya in his Arthashastra, mentions 18 types of great officers of State. But in this Article, we shall only look into those who performed policing duties.
Of the 18 types of great officers that were mentioned, Dauvarika had the responsibility of security of royal palace, and was considered as an important officer. Another officer who was known as Durgapala, who was later called Kotapala (Kotwal), had the job of revenue collection and law and order maintenance, same as Purapala.
Antapala was another officer who acted both as a warden of frontier, and as a guardian for the safe up-keep of roads. His job also included keeping the roads free of robbers and collecting road tolls from merchants.
Mauryan administration system wasn’t limited to large cities only, since a system was present in smaller cities and villages as well. Let’s take a look at police system in smaller settlements. The village headman known as Gramini, was responsible for police Activities in Village. There existed officers like Chaur Rajjuka and Vivitadhyaksha, considered to be expert in apprehending thieves. It’s important to note that at local level, police system was dependent on the local community it was serving.
Coming back to cities, there existed a system of patrolling. Each city was divided into 4 parts, each one of which was headed by an officer called Sthanik. There also existed Chaukis, known as Chatushakhas and Gulm.
It is worth noting that Gulma Later became Gumti, which is used even today. Duty period of a guard was measured in Praharas (8 prahar in one day, of 3 hours each). Other than police, there also existed a judicial system, having judges (Dharma Sthaniya) and prosecutors (kantakasodhana).The system that existed during Mauryan empire, was brought to a halt with invasions of Indo-Scythians.
Coming to Gupta age, existence of police system is confirmed by Vishakhadutta’s Mudrarakshasha, Account of Chinese Traveller Fa-Hein and Dasakumaracharita of Dandin. One of the main task of police was to keep roads and highways free of robbers.
After the fall of Gupta empire, many smaller kingdoms emerged, which were almost always engaged in war against each other. Literary sources like Rajtarangini of Kalhana gives an insight into the contemporary situation of law and order. It can be safely deduced that, by and large, law and order situation in Post Gupta Era, was at Satisfactory level.
Going down south, In Chola empire, villagers themselves appointed watchmen for protection. This system was called Padikaval and the watchmen were called Padikappar. They were paid In terms of land grants and through a tax called Padikaval kali, which was earmarked for this purpose only.
A Tamil classic Silappadikaram speaks about the period of Chera king Charan Senguttuvan’s (9th Century AD) and here absence of thieves and robbers is noted. It also describes town and village watch system. Another Tamil classic Manimenkalai talkes about highway patrolmen.
Coming back up North again, there exists a Nadol inscription of Chauhan king Rayapala chahamana of VS 1198 ( 1141 AD) which tells us about local law enforcement system. The inscription describes that whole people of town of Dhalopa, headed by Brahamans, signed a document which contained a solemn promise on their part to find out, in accordance with the custom of the country, by means of Chaukadikas system (equivalent to modern day Chowki), whatever is lost or snatched away from people passing on their way. Money, weapons etc were to be supplied by the King. There is also declaration about the suffering one would undergo if those responsible to find lost articles refused to do so.
Although Islamic rule began in North India in year 1192-93, and later made inroads in southern part of India as well, yet it was resisted for more than 2 centuries in South by Vijayanagara Empire, Hence I consider it worthwhile to take a look at police system in Vijayanagara As well. Persian traveller and official, Abdur Razzaq, Mentions that there were 2 types of Police in Vijayanagar. One being Royal police and other being People’s Police.
Royal Police was specifically tasked with security and safety of Royal Palace and its occupants. While public police had its main Task as to acquaint themselves with the events and accidents that happen within the seven walls and recover everything that is lost or taken by thieves.
In the end to summarize this Article in Few Points:
- Indian Philosophers had paid enough attention to system of law and order and had prescribed various measures for society to function properly.
- There existed a continuous line of existence of law and order System since ancient times up to early medieval India.
- Traditional Police system in India was operated with the help of society itself which it was serving.
- The objective of existence of Police system was to remove criminals, robbers, etc., from society. It is worth noting that unlike today, police in ancient India did not exist as an entity used to enforce the law.
- Police System In Ancient India, K.K. Mishra.
- The Indian Journal Of Political Science, Vol.65
- Police and Political Development in India, Bayley, Dawid H.
- Paripex Indian Journal of Research, Vol IV issue VI
- History of Madras Police, (cetenary 1859) to 1959.