Hinduism on Justice and Injustice

Hindu scriptures reflect a deep fascination with and commitment to justice, both as a social reality and as a cosmic principle. The earliest narratives identify justice with the work of a god, such as Yama, who weighs the actions of the dead on his scale, or Varuna, who binds sinners with the fetters of illness. By the end of the Vedic period (sixth century BCE), justice was equated with a cosmological principle, called rita, which governed nature as well as human ethical conduct. To follow rita was to act in accordance with justice, or natural law. However, it was not until the concept of karma emerged, in the early Upanishads, that justice became a logical consequence of action. Karma stipulated that good actions are rewarded and bad actions punished, if not in this life then the next. This became part of the intellectual foundation for social inequality and a corresponding explanation for social evil. In later centuries, justice, defined as dharma, played a major role in the social and political order. Ideally embodied in the person of the king, justice became a leveling tool, and a means of protecting the weak from the strong. And although Hindu society was divided into ranked castes with distinct duties and rights, a universal respect for foundational values pervaded the entire social structure. This included the universal respect for life, truth, and elders.
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