Punishments and torture in ancient India

Rama, the hindu god of ethics. India.

Ancient India was not a safe place to live. Many groups of thieves existed already at the time of the Buddha( 6°century BC). They were bandits from generation to generation, robbing and killing their victims like the Thugs did later. These professional bandit caste, but not only them, constituted an important problem : punishment of crimes and offences was then harsh.

Written in the 4°century BC by Kautilya, minister of the king Candragupta Maurya, the “Arthashastra” is a treatise on the art of ruling and one of the main indian book ever written. It recommends : cutting off the right hand for pickpocketing or theft; cutting off the nose for theft; cutting off one hand for false dice player; cutting off the nose and ears for abetting in theft and adultery; chopping off one hand and leg for kicking preceptors and using royal coaches; blinding by poisonous ointments for sudras pretending to be brahmins or for slandering the king; chopping off one hand or foot for freeing culprits, forgery or sale of human flesh; cutting off the tongue for slandering preceptors, parents and the king and for defiling a brahmin’s kitchen. There were also different forms of death : death with torture for murder in a quarrel; death by impaling for theft of royal animals; death by burning hands and skin for treason; death by drowning for breaching dams or reservoirs, for poisoning or for women who administered poison; death by tearing off the limbs of criminals, for women who administered poison or set fire to houses; death by burning for incendiarism. There were also offences for which the culprit was killed without any torture being applied. Moreover, reduction to slavery was inflicted on men and women in cases of adultery,…

In practice, many mutilations and death penalties ( except those due to treason) were reduced to fines which resulted in a considerable inflow to the royal coffers. Except for treason, brahmins ( the highest class in India already) were immune from the death penalty. Being privileged, brahmin offenders were usually slightly condemned. In case of theft, the figure of a dog ( In traditional India, dogs are misconstrued, they considered as impure.) was branded on their forehead; in case of murder, the figure of a human trunk;…And in some cases, the alternative was to banish the brahmin from the kingdom.

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