On September 3, the Journal of the American Academy of Religion published Violence in the Vālmı̄ki Rāmāyana : Just War Criteria in an Ancient Indian Epic by Raj Balkaran (University of Calgary) and A. Walter Dorn (Royal Military College of Canada and Canadian Forces College). The abstract follows.
When is armed force considered justified in Hinduism? How do Hindu legitimizations of warfare compare with those of other religions? The Just War framework, which evolved from Roman and early Christian thought, stipulates distinct criteria for sanctioning the use of force. Are those themes comparable to the discourse on violence of ancient India? This article examines the influential Sanskrit epic Vālmıki Rāmāyana in order to broach these questions. This analysis demonstrates the presence in the ancient work of all seven modern Just War criteria—namely (1) Just Cause, (2) Right Intent, (3) Net Benefit, (4) Legitimate Authority, (5) Last Resort, (6) Proportionality of Means, and (7) Right Conduct. This study also shows the extent to which the criteria and the larger discourse in the Vālmıki Rāmāyana are distinctly couched within Indic ethical parameters, drawing particularly upon the moral precept of ahimsā (nonviolence). This article identifies both similarities and differences between the epic’s criteria for warfare and those of the Just War framework. By comparing representations of violence in the Vālmıki Rāmāyana to modern Western legitimizations of force, this study advances the inclusion of Hindu thought into the global discourse on the ethics of war and peace.