Has Pakistan descended into a state of matsya nyaya?

By Justice Markandey Katju-

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

Our ancient thinkers were of the view that the worst state of affairs possible in society is a state of lawlessness. When the rule of law collapses it is replaced by matsya nyaya, which means the law of the jungle.

In Sanskrit the word ‘matsya’ means fish, and matsya nyaya means the state of affairs when the big fish devours the smaller one. All our ancient thinkers have condemned matsya nyaya ( see ‘History of the Dharmashastras’ by P.V. Kane, Volume 3 page 21).

This idea of matsyanyaya ( the maxim of the larger fish devouring the smaller ones or the strong despoiling the weak) was frequently dwelt upon by Kautilya, the Mahabharata, and other works. It can be traced back to the Shatapath Brahman (Chapter 11,1.6.24) where it is said “Whenever there is drought then the stronger seizes upon the weaker, for the waters are the law”, which probably means that when there is no rain, the reign of law comes to an end, and matsyanyaya begins to operate.

Kautilya says “If danda be not employed, it gives rise to the condition of matsyanyaya, for in the absence of a chastiser the strong devour the weak”. That in the absence of a king (arajaka) or when there is no fear of punishment the condition of matsyanyaya follows has been declared by several works e.g.Ramayana,( Chapter 67), Shantiparva of Mahabharata, (15.30 and 67.16), Kamandaka (@.40), Matsyapurana (225.9), Manasollasa ( 2.20.1295), etc.

Thus in the Shantiparva of Mahabharata it is stated:

“Raja chenna bhavelloke prithivyaam dandadharaka

Shule Matsyanivapakshyun durbalaat balvattarah”

which means, “When the king carrying the rod of punishment does not protect the earth, then the strong persons destroy the weaker ones, just like in water the big fish eat the smaller ones”.

In the Shantiparva of Mahabharata Bheeshma Pitamah tells Yudhishthir that there is nothing worse in the world than lawlessness, for in a state of matsyanyaya nobody, not even the evil doers, are safe, for even the evil doers will sooner or later be swallowed up by bigger evil doers.

Keeping this in mind, we may consider what is happening in Pakistan.

After the judgment of the Pakistan Supreme Court holding the decision of the Election Commission of Pakistan postponing the elections of the Punjab and KP Provincial Assemblies to 8th October illegal, and directing that elections in Punjab to be held on 14th May, the Federal Cabinet ( of the PDM ) has declared that it does not accept the verdict and will not implement it.



This is a declaration of matsya nyaya or jungle raj in Pakistan. If court verdicts are not accepted where does this lead to ? Matsya nyaya will begin to operate since the rule of law will collapse in Pakistan, and everyone will be at each other’s throats.

No society in the world can or has been without a judiciary, for it is in the nature of things that there will be some disputes among the people. Hence there has to be a forum where these disputes are resolved peacefully, otherwise, they will be resolved violently, with knives, swords or guns. This forum is the judiciary. The contending parties come to court, place their arguments, and then the judge gives a verdict. Even if the verdict does not please one party, he must accept it, otherwise, violence will ensue. Hence the purpose of a judiciary is to maintain peace in society.

The decision of the Pakistan Cabinet that it does not accept the verdict of the Pakistan Supreme Court is a declaration of war by the ruling PDM government on the rule of law. It tantamount to saying that unless verdicts are favorable to the PDM government they will not be accepted or implemented.

Article 5 of the Pakistan Constitution says that all citizens are under obligation to obey the Constitution and the laws, and Article 190 says that the executive authorities ( which would include the Federal Cabinet ) will act in aid of the Supreme Court. But the Pakistan Govt in essence has said it will not comply with these provisions.

I am afraid matsya nyaya has begun to operate in Pakistan.


Related posts