First of all we have to understand what is the meaning of the term Mens Rea and how does it play important role in criminal Jurisprudence? The word Mens Rea takes its origin from the Legal Maxim actus non facit reum, nisi mens sit rea, i.e., the act itself does not constitute guilt unless done with a guilty intent. It means until and unless a person is shown to have a guilty mind, he cannot be said to have committed any offence. A children of 12–14 years of age cannot be said to have committed fraud as it is normally understood that a child of 12–14 years of age cannot be said to have evil intent to commit fraud or perjury.
Therefore , in order to punish a person for an offence, it must have to be established that the person was having evil intent at the time of committing offence. Only Act of offence is not enough for punishing the offender. The presence of evil intent is sine qua non for drawing this inference that the person accused is the offender. The term mens rea, in general sense means evil mind. Hence the necessity of guilty mind is necessary for punishing any accused in any criminal jurisprudence including in India. If a person kills a person at night, apprehending to be a ghost, he cannot be punished for committing a murder. Not let’s see whether the concept of MENS REA was mentioned there in Mahabharata. This principle found its origins from the story of birth of YAMARAJ (the kind of Death) in the human form as VIDURA.
Vidura was younger brother of Pandu and Dhritrashtra. It is mentioned in the Mahabharata that Vidura left for pilgrimage , after being humiliated from Duryodhana. He did not carry anything with him anything. Vidura Even returned the money to Dhritrashtra, which Dhritrashtra offered to him. Vidura was aware of this fact that carrying more wealth than necessary, certainly meant for inviting lust, desire and sin. Vidura used to fast for long and take bath in pious river. He did this continuously for 36 years. While staying with Kauravas , he was humiliated many times. Duryodhana degraded him. But he kept on tolerated all the humiliation. While doing so, he accumulated virtues, while Kauravas lost the virtue. When Vidura left the Kauravas, he carried all the virtues of Kauravas with him.
During his pilgrimage, he never wore any decorated clothes. Never partook delicious foods. Used to sleep at the ground. He was practicing the penance and austerity only with a view to purify his soul. During the course of his pilgrimage he came to Vrindavan. In Vrindavan he started to visualize that Krishna was playing on the Kadamb Tree and all the cows were running after Krishna after getting hypnotized hearing the melodious sound of his flute. Vidura felt pity on himself. He thought that even those cows were luckier than him as they were rejoicing the company of Lord Krishna. When he was practicing penance in Vrindavan, he met Uddhava, the messenger and friend of Lord Krishna. Vidura and Uddhava both were devotee of Lord Krishna and they were rejoicing the company of each other. Vidura went to hermitage of Sage Maitreya , along with Uddhava and sought wisdom. Sage Maitreya told Vidura the story of his birth in human form and reasons of all his suffering. Sage Maitreya told Vidura that he was not an ordinary man, but was infact an incarnation of YAMRAJ (the Lord of Death). Maitreya further told Vidura that it was because of Curse of sage Manduka that Yamraja had to take birth in human form as Vidura. The complete story has been narrated in Mahabharata regarding birth of Yamraj in human form as Vidura.
O Vidura, in the past time, there was a king, whose jewelry had been stolen. The thieves were looking for a safe place to hide the stolen Jewelry. They concealed the stolen Jewelry at the hermitage of Sage Manduka , who was meditating at the Bank of River and practicing the silence. Soldiers of the King came near the hermitage of Sage Manduka and asked him about the thieves. But as Sage Manduka was practicing the oath of Silence, so he did not respond. Later the soldiers discovered the stolen Jewelry in the hermitage of Manduka. The soldiers of king arrested all the thieves and Manduka Muni. When King asked Sage Manduka about the stolen Jewelry, he did not utter even a single word as he had taken the oath of silence. Hence King punished the sage Manduka to death by being pierced with a lance. Later the King discovered that he was great Sage so he sought pardon from Manduka. Sage Manduka pardoned the king but he went to Yamloka and inquired with Yama about the sin committed by him for which he was made to suffer impalement on a stake? Sage Manduka further questioned Yamraja that he did not remember any such act done by him in his life time which invited such punishment. Then Yamraja replied that in his childhood , Manduka pierced an ant with a sharpened straw, and for that reason he had to face the consequences. Manduka replied that as a child, he was not having guilty mind to commit a crime. He was wrongly punished by Yamraja for his innocence. He further cursed Yamraja to take the birth in human form and to undergo the suffering. This was the reasons for suffering of Vidura.
Manduka further reminded Yamraja that he committed mistake in not considering the laws narrated in the Scriptures as scriptures did not not consider the act of a child as sinful up to the age of twelve. Manduka further declared a law that a child till the age of fourteen, shall not be punished for any of his act as till this time, a child does not have guilty mind. After hearing this story, Vidura relieved from the suffering he was undergoing throughout his life. From this story it is apparent that importance of mens rea has already been explained in Mahabharata. As per Mahabaharat, a child can not be said to have guilty mind till the age fourteen. All the acts done by a child till the age of fourteen were considered to be act of an innocent mind and for that reason a child cannot be punished. This important concept of mens rea already been discussed in Mahabharata on the basis of criminal jurisprudence has been developed, especially Juvenile Criminal Jurisprudence. Following this principle a Juvenile is sent in rehabilitation home for improving his personality, instead of punishing him as an adult.
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