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Kautilya: On Gender Issues from The Arthashastra, c. 250 BCE

Book III, Chapter 2, Concerning Marriage and Women

Marriage is the basis of all disputes. The giving in marriage of a virgin well-adorned is called "Brahma-marriage." The joint performance of sacred duties by a man and a woman is known as "prajapatya-marriage." The giving in marriage of a virgin for a couple of cows is called "Arsha-marriage." The giving in marriage of a virgin to an officiating priest in a sacrifice is called "Daiva-marriage." The voluntary union of a virgin with her lover is called "Gandharva-marriage." Giving a virgin after receiving plenty of wealth is termed "Asura-marriage." The abduction of a virgin is called "Rakshasa-marriage." The abduction of a virgin while she is still asleep and intoxicated is called "Paisacha-marriage." Of these, the first four are ancestral customs of old and are valid on their being approved of by the father. The rest are to be sanctioned by both the father and the mother; for it is they that receive the money paid by the bridegroom for their daughter. In case of the absence by death of either the father or the mother, the survivor will receive the money-payment. If both of them are dead, the virgin herself shall receive it. Any kind of marriage is approvable, provided it pleases all those that are concerned in it.

Means of subsistence or jewelry constitutes what is called the property of a woman. Means of subsistence above two thousand shall be endowed in her name. There is no limit to jewelry. It is no guilt for the wife to make use of this property in maintaining her son, her daughter-in-law, or herself, whenever her absent husband has made no provision for her maintenance. In calamities, disease and famine, in warding off dangers and in charitable acts, the husband, too, may make use of this property. . . .On the death of her husband a woman, desirous to lead a pious life, shall at once receive not only her endowment and jewelry, but also the balance of the marriage-price due her. If after obtaining these two things she remarries another, she shall be caused to pay them back together with interest on their value. . . If a widow marries any man other than of her father-in-law's selection, she shall forfeit whatever had been given to her by her father-in-law and her deceased husband. . . .No woman shall succeed in her attempt to establish her title to the property of her deceased husband, after she remarries. If she lives a pious life, she may enjoy it. No woman with a son or sons shall after remarriage be at liberty to make free use of her property; for that property of hers, her sons shall receive. . . .

If a woman either brings forth no live children, or has no male issue, or is barren, her husband shall wait for eight years before marrying another. If she bears only a dead child, he has to wait for ten years. If she brings forth only females, he has to wait for twelve years. Then, if he is desirous to have sons, he may marry another. . . If a husband either is of bad character, or is long gone abroad, or has become a traitor to his king, or is likely to endanger the life of his wife, or has fallen from his caste, or has lost virility, he may be abandoned by his wife.

Book III, Chapter 3, The Duty of a Wife

Women, when twelve years old, attain their majority, and men when sixteen years old. If, after attaining their majority, they prove disobedient to lawful authority, women shall be fined fifteen panas, and men twice the amount. A woman who has a right to claim maintenance for an unlimited period of time shall be given as much food and clothing as is necessary for her, or more than is necessary in proportion to the income of her maintainer. . . Women of refractive natures shall not be taught manners by using such expressions as "You, half-naked!; you, fully-naked; you, cripple; you, fatherless; you, motherless." Nor shall she be given more than three beats, either with a bamboo bark or with a rope or with the palm of the hand, on her hips. Violation of the above rules shall be liable to half the punishment levied for defamation and criminal hurt. The same kind of punishments shall be meted out to a woman who, moved with jealousy or hatred, shows cruelty to her husband. . . .

A woman who hates her husband, who has passed the period of seven turns of her menses, and who loves another, shall immediately return to her husband both the endowment and jewelry she has received from him, and allow him to lie down with another woman. A man, hating his wife, shall allow her to take shelter in the house of a beggar woman, or of her lawful guardians or of her kinsmen. . . A woman, hating her husband, cannot divorce her husband against his will. Nor can a man divorce his wife against her will. But from mutual enmity divorce may be obtained. . .

If a woman engages herself in amorous sports, or drinking in the face of an order to the contrary, she shall be fined three panas. She shall pay a fine of six panas for going out at daytime to sports or to see a woman or spectacles. She shall pay a fine of twelve panas if she goes out to see another man or for sports. For the same offences committed at night the fines shall be doubled. If a woman goes out while the husband is asleep or intoxicated, or if she shuts the door of the house against her husband, she shall be fined twelve panas. If a woman keeps him out of the house at night, she shall pay double the above fine. If a man and a woman make signs to each other with a view to sensual enjoyment, or carry on secret conversation for the same purpose, the woman shall pay a fine of twenty-four panas and the man double that amount. . . .For holding conversation in suspicious places, whips may be substituted for fines. In the center of the village, an outcaste person may whip such women five times on each of the sides of their body.

Book III, Chapter 6, Special Shares of Inheritance

Goats shall be the special shares of the eldest of sons, born of the same mother, among Brahmans; horses among Kshatriyas; cows among Vaisyas; and sheep among Shudras. The blind of the same animals shall be the special shares to the middlemost sons;. . .

Book IV, Chapter 12, Sexual Intercourse with Immature Girls

He who defiles a virgin of equal caste before she has reached her majority shall have his hand cut off or pay a fine of 400 panas; if the virgin dies in consequence, the offender shall be put to death. He who defiles a virgin of lesser caste who has attained majority shall have his middle finger cut off or pay a fine of 200 panas, besides giving an adequate compensation to her father. No man shall have sexual intercourse with a woman against her will. He who defiles a willing virgin shall pay a fine of 54 panas, while the maiden herself shall pay a fine of half the amount. When a man impersonates another man who has already paid the nuptial fee to a woman, he shall have his hand cut off or pay a fine of 400 panas, besides making good the nuptial fee. No man who has connection with a virgin that has passed seven menses and has not yet succeeded in marrying her, though she has been betrothed to him, shall either be guilty or pay any compensation to her father. . .When a woman, being desirous of intercourse, yields herself to a man of the same caste and rank, she shall be fined twelve panas, while any other woman who is an abettor in the case shall be fined twice as much. . . A woman who, of her own accord, yields herself to a man, shall be a slave to the king. For committing intercourse with a woman outside a village, or for spreading false report regarding such things, double the usual fines shall be imposed. He who carries off a virgin by force shall be fined 200 panas; if the virgin thus carried off has golden ornaments on her person, the highest amercement shall be imposed. . .

When a man rescues a woman from enemies, forests or floods, or saves the life of a woman who has been abandoned in forests, forsaken in famine, or thrown out as if dead, he may enjoy her as he wishes. A woman of high caste, with children and having no desire for sexual enjoyment, may be let off after receiving an adequate amount of ransom. . . .

Book IV, Chapter 13, Punishment for Violating Justice

He who causes a Brahman to partake of whatever food or drink is prohibited shall be punished with the highest amercement. He who causes a Kshatriya to do the same shall be punished with the middlemost amercement; a Vaisya, with the first amercement; and a Shudra, with a fine of 54 panas. Those who voluntarily partake of whatever is condemned, either as food or drink, shall be outcastes. . . He who mounts the roof of his own house after midnight shall be punished with the first amercement; and of another's house, with the middlemost amercement. Those who break the fences of villages, gardens, or fields shall also be punished with the middlemost amercement. . . Harm due to the construction of unstable houses, carts with no support, or with a beam or weapon hung above, or with damaged support, or with no covering, and harm due to causing a cart to fall in pits, or a tank, or from a dam, shall be treated as assault. Cutting of trees, stealing the rope with which a tameable animal is tied, employing untamed quadrupeds, throwing sticks, mud, stones, rods, or arrows on chariots or elephants, raising or waving the arm against chariots or elephants, shall also be treated as assault. . . .Whatever a man attempts to do to others by witchcraft shall be done to himself.

A Kshatriya who commits adultery with an unguarded Brahman woman shall be punished with the highest amercement; a Vaisya doing the same shall be deprived of the whole of his property; and a Shudra shall be burnt alive wound round in mats. Whoever commits adultery with the queen of the land shall be burnt alive in a vessel. A man who commits adultery with a woman of low caste shall be banished, with prescribed marks branded on his forehead, or shall be degraded to the same caste. A Shudra or an outcaste who commits adultery with a woman of low caste shall be put to death, while the woman shall have her ears and nose cut off. Adultery with a nun shall be punishable with a fine of twenty-four panas, while the nun who submits herself shall also pay a similar fine. A man who forces his connection with a harlot shall be fined twelve panas. When a man has connection with a woman against nature, he shall be punished with the first amercement. A man having sexual intercourse with another man shall also pay the first amercement. When a senseless man has sexual intercourse with beasts, he shall be fined twelve panas; when he commits the same act with idols of goddesses, he shall be fined twice as much. . . .


From: Kautilya, Kautilya's Arthashastra,2 d Ed., trans. R. Shamasastry (Mysore: Wesleyan Mission Press, 1923), passim.

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton.

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