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Learning from the Past


By S.C. Banerji
Naya Prokash, 1980, pp. 182, Rs. 70.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 2 September/October 1980

Crime and Sex in Ancient India deals with the crimes and sexual aberrations prevalent in ancient India and the punish­ments meted out. The title is rather a misnomer as the volume does not relate crime and sex to each other even though one can gather when sex became criminal to our ancients. From concepts of sin and expiation, through the various works on crimes, the prescribed punishments and the judicial procedures dealing with offences relating to movable and immovable properties, money, purchase and sale, mortgage and other miscellaneous offences, the author jumps over to sexual life, sex-influence on myths and legends, preservation of youth, increase of sexual vigour and physical charm etc. He ends up with the treatment of love in Sanskrit literature. Inspite of all this meanderings, the innumerable spelling mistakes and wrong usage of language, Banerji's efforts cannot be belittled as it throws light on the traditional ways of fighting social evils and on the systematic criminal code our forefathers had developed. Whenever a Rameeza Bee, Mathura or Maya Tyagi happens in our country res­ponsible public figures, and government officials too, go about white-washing the gravity of such outrages by saying that rape is as ancient as civilization and as one minister recently put it, a woman is meant for all that. Well, these half­-educated wits can illuminate themselves if only they would bother to go through the wisdom and the matured outlook of our ancients. The way laws are pushed about making them applicable to some and to victimize others, one wonders if we are not hurtling back to non-civili­zation. How relevant Banerji's book is to the present is clear from the following: ‘If punishment is inflicted after proper con­sideration, the people become satisfied. Otherwise the people are agitated, as a result, the kingdom perishes ... anarchy ensues, the strong oppress the weak ....’ Punishments have a purpose. It is not only to restrain the offender but also to create a sense of social security among the people. That a murderer or a rapist has been given severe punishment res­trains others from committing such offen­ces. Forcible sexual union was the gravest offence. As the administration itself de­pended on the caste-structure, caste considerations often diluted the string­ency of punishments prescribed. But sentences like cutting off the genital organ and testicles and being taken on the back of an ass were deterrent ...

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