The landlord could prevent the tenant from cultivating the land without evicting him. He had to send his servant with a bundle of leaves and a handful of clay which the servant would deposit in the middle of the land, from which rent was due. Thereafter he had to swear that his landlord had forbidden him to cultivate the land till he paid the rent.
When payment was demanded of the debtor, a circle is drawn round him with a green branch. The payment would be demanded in the name of the Brahmins and the ruler. The Naduvalis and the Desavalis as well as the Karanavars had their respective share in judicial administration of the nadus and the desams. Tara organisation also played its part in the administration of justice. The Karanavars settled of minor issues. Criminal offences were settled by the king after investigation by Karanavars or the Desavalis.
Law and justice depended upon the position and status of the accused. For instance if the accused belonged to the high caste he would lose his caste or be banished. Women were traded as slaves. The decisions of the Karanavars in civil cases were agreed by the parties. However there were occasions when the defeated party tried to get the decision reversed by appealing to the king. Caste disputes were decided by the Brahman judges. Justice was absolutely free in medieval Kerala.
It is believed that there was no torture during judicial investigation. Crimes were detected by ordeal which was not peculiar to Malabar. There were four types of ordeal:
* Water ordeals were popular. The suspected person was asked to swim through a river which had many crocodiles and reptiles. He would be considered innocent if he had come out unhurt.
* Another common form of water ordeal was used when there were cases of theft. The names of all the inmates of the house from which the article was lost were written on paper chits. Each was enclosed in a ball of wax and was thrown together in a pot of water. It was believed that the ball containing the name of the guilty would float on the surface.
* The fire ordeal - The accused was asked to dip in his hand up to elbow in boiling ghee or oil. If the hand showed no sign of burning after three days, he was considered innocent. If his guilt was proved, he would be executed after confession.
* Ordeal by poison - There were two kinds. The accused had to take a certain quantity of poison from the hands of a Brahman and remain unaffected. Else he had to take out a coin or something from a deep earthen pot containing a cobra.
* Ordeal by balance - the accused was asked to fast for the whole day and weigh him in a balance, then to have a bath and weigh himself once more with the accusation recorded fastened on his forehead. He was innocent if he weighed less.
In both civil and criminal cases appeal to supernatural was a common method that was employed in detecting crimes. Extreme penalty of law was invariably imposed in case of five crimes except in the case of the Brahmans. These five crimes are: murder of a Brahman, drinking spirits, theft, disobeying teacher's rules and killing of a cow. At times capital punishments were also inflicted sometimes by piercing alive or being torn by elephants. As the central authority was weak the mutual jealousies and mediaeval notions of chivalry of the nobles was always in a state of political turmoil. The marriage laws of Malabar were modern. If either party desired dissolution it was granted by the other party and the woman was free to marry again. Widowhood was unknown among the Nairs.
(Last Updated on : 16-04-2014)
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