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The Predicament of Women in Ancient India: [04] Sins of Men and Sins of Women

Published: 30.05.2008
Updated: 02.07.2015

The present section is again concerned with sins and punishments.

OlIVELLE has isolated in Manu Book 8 a section labelled by him 'Sexual Crimes against Women' (352-385). The section demonstrates to some extent the structure of ancient Indian ethics, e.g. Shudra versus twice-born (for example in the case of rape), pratiloma and anuloma relations, punishments calculated on the basis of varna, punishments calculated on the basis of the guarded/unguarded dichotomy, punishments in general. (Glossary sub voce Guarded).

An example for 'varna calculation' (not always clear) is Manu 8.268 "A Brahmin should be fined 50 for abusing a Ksatriya, 25 for abusing a Vaisya, and 12 for abusing a Sudra." What counts is the varna of the victim as well as the varna of the culprit. Manu 8.267-278 ('Verbal Assault'). HOPKINS Re.

For sins of men against women we quote 8.367-368 (assault); 374-375 and 382 (adultery).

Manu 8.367. If a man arrogantly violates a virgin by force, two of his fingers... should be cut off immediately, and he should also be fined 600.

8.368. A man of equal status who defiles a willing girl shall not be subject to the cutting of his fingers, but he should be compelled to pay a fine of 200 to deter repetition.

8.374. When a Sudra has sex with a guarded or unguarded woman of the twice-born class -- he loses a limb [his penis] and all his possessions, if she was unguarded. If she was guarded, a Sudra loses everything [property and life];

8.375 a Vaisya is imprisoned for a year and all his property is confiscated; and a Ksatriya is fined 1.000 and his head is shaved using urine. [374 continued? ]

8.382. If a Vaisya has intercourse with a woman of the Ksatriya caste who is guarded, or a Ksatriya with a woman of the Vaisya caste (who is guarded), they both ought to pay the fine (which is imposed for a similar offence) toward a woman of the Brahman caste who is not guarded. [8.382: BURNELL]

Verses 8.382-385 (on illegal intercourse) are all difficult.

The following seven verses (except 9.79) describe the misbehaviour of a married wife towards her husband, and her punishment. Verse 9.79 (husband insane) forbids punishment of the wife. In 9.80 (wife drinks liquor...), 9.81 (wife has no sons) and 9.82 (wife is sick) the consequence is supersession. In 9.77 (wife loathes husband) and 9.78 (husband is intolerable) minor punishments are prescribed. If a superseded wife (9.83) does not behave properly, she should be locked up or repudiated.

Manu 9.77. For one year let a husband tolerate a wife who loathes him; after one year he should confiscate her inheritance and stop cohabiting with her.

9.78. If a wife commits a transgression against her husband who is deranged, drunk, or sick, deprived of [without] her ornaments and belongings, she should be cast out for three months.

9.79. If a wife loathes a husband who has become insane, fallen from caste, or impotent, who is without semen (?), or who has contracted an evil disease, she must neither be abandoned nor deprived of her inheritance.

9.80. When a wife drinks liquor or is dishonest..., cantankerous, sick, vicious, or wasteful, she may be superseded at any time by marriage to another wife.

9.81. A barren wife may be superseded in the eighth year [after marriage]; a wife whose children die, in the tenth; a wife who bears girls, in the eleventh; but a foul-mouthed wife, at once.

9.82. If a wife is sickly but affectionate and rich in virtue, he may marry a wife to supersede her with her consent; [but] she should never be treated with disrespect.

9.83. If a woman who has been superseded leave (her husband's) house in wrath, she should be locked up immediately or repudiated in the presence of the family.

The following ideology is different:

Manu 8.317. The killer of an embryo [?]... rubs his sin off on the man who eats his food, an adulterous wife on her husband, a pupil and a patron of a sacrifice on the teacher, and a thief on the king.

Title Photo Background:
Picture Credits: ASW - Aktionsgemeinschaft Solidarische Welt e.V., BERLIN.

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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Brahman
  2. Brahmin
  3. Ksatriya
  4. Manu
  5. Vaisya
  6. Varna
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