Some of the punishments prescribed in Manusmriti etc. sound like cruel jokes:

A Shudra who insults a twice born man with gross invectives shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin. (Manu VIII. 270.)

If he mentions the names and castes of the (twice born) with contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers long, shall be thrust red hot into his mouth. (Manu VIII. 271.)

If a Shudra arrogantly presumes to preach religion to Brahmins, the king shall have poured burning oil in his mouth and ears. Manu VIII. 272.)

A Shudra who has an intercourse with a woman of the higher caste guarded or unguarded shall be punished n the following manner; if she was unguarded, he loses the offending part; if she was guarded then he should be put to death and his property confiscated. (Manu VIII. 374.)

Note that in the last item, the consent of the woman is not an issue.

Does the notion of the punishment being proportionate to the crime exist in Hinduism?


1 Answer 1


Does Hinduism have a notion of proportionate punishment?

Yes, some crimes are greater than other crimes. Also, crimes done intentionally are more punishable than crimes done unintentionally. The punishment for a crime is based on circumstances.

From the same Manusmriti:

7.16 - To men who act unlawfully, he shall mete it out appropriately, having carefully considered the time and place, as also the strength and learning.

And from other scriptures:

Yājñavalkya (1.367).—‘The king shall inflict punishment upon those who deserve it, after duly taking into consideration, the crime, the place and the time, as also the strength, age, act and wealth of the culprit,’

Gautama (12.51).—‘The award of punishment should be regulated by a consideration of the status of the criminal, of his bodily strength, of the nature of the crime and whether the offence has been repeated.’

Vaśiṣṭha (19, 9-10).—‘Punishment should be awarded in cases of assault and abuse after due consideration of the particular place and time, of the duties, age, learning, and the sect; in accordance with the scriptures and in accordance with precedents.’

Viṣṇu (3.91, 92).—‘He should inflict punishments, corresponding to the nature of their offences, upon evil-doers. He should inflict punishments according to justice.’

Matsya-purāṇa (Vīramitrodaya-Rājanīti, p. 255).—‘The king should inflict punishment after due enquiry; everything rests upon punishment.’

Arthaśāstra (p. 32).—‘Punishment is the means whereby the security of the science of philosophy, Vedic triad and Trade-Agriculture is obtained.’

Śukranīti 1.45-47).—‘Through fear of punishment meted out by the king, each man gets into the habit of following his own Dharma. The person who follows his own Dharma can become powerful and influential in this world. With strict adherence to one’s own duty, there can he no happiness. Poliowing one’s own Dharma is the highest penance.’

The same concept also applies to Prayaschitta (expiation of sins)

Manu 11.209 - For the atonement of offences for which no expiation has been prescribed, one should fix an expiation after taking into consideration the man’s capacity and the nature of the offence.

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