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Manu Smriti 8.270 : If a once-born person insults a twice-born one with gross abuse, he should suffer the cutting off of his tongue; as he is of low origin

Manu Smriti 8.268 : For abusing a Kṣatriya, the Brāhmaṇa should be fined fifty; and in the case of a Vaiśya, the fine shall be twenty-five; and in that of a Shudra, twelve.

How to reconcile with these "apparently unjust" punishments?

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    same reason why a policeman gets 2 week suspension if he beats a local villager, but the local villager gets 2 weeks jail if he beats a policeman. not all people are born equal, contrary to what you think. If you treat everyone equally, it actually means you are being biased and partial. because you are ignoring how much punya they did in their previous lives to get to their current birth.
    – mar
    May 24 at 14:34
  • The first is mere a hyperbole to indicate severity of punishment on abusing a Brahmin. That's not to be taken literally. May 24 at 14:49
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    @SethuSrivatsaKoduru What is your question actually? The body of the question doesn't have anything other than just two verses. If you think the punishments given by Manu are unjust then clarify it in the question's body.
    – Rickross
    May 25 at 8:51
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1. The Prescription of Fine

(See table below to avoid reading)

The basic rule for fine in case of verbal abuse has been dealt with in Dharmashastras like Brihaspati which purport to derive their authority from Manu (see below). Also from comparative notes, Yajnavalkya Smriti is in agreement with this, and as discussed here is supposed to be similar to Manu. The rule seems to be:

When two persons abuse each other, their punishment shall be equal, if they are equals in caste; if one is inferior to the other, his punishment shall be double; for a superior, half (of the ordinary punishment) is ordained.
Brihaspati 20.5

The above can be explained better as:

  • If a person, say X, abuses another, he shall be fined with a certain amount depending on Y’s caste. If the abused is of a preceding caste, the fine shall be double of what it would be in for a person of the immediately successive caste. So if X abuses a Kshatriya the fine would be double of what it would be if he had defamed a Vaishya.
  • If the abuser, say A, belongs to a preceding caste before X, his fine will be half of what it would be for the same offence as X. If A was of a succeeding caste than X, then he would be fined double for the same offence. Eg if X abused a kshatriya he would be fined ₹1. If A, preceded X, he would be fined ₹0.5. If A was successive to X he would be fined ₹2. If A

The following table is based on the rule and denomination of fine as given in the Brihaspati Smriti. The top row indicates the victim and the first column indicates the abuser:

Varna Brahmin Kshatriya Vaishya Shudra
Brahmin 13.5 50 25 13.5
Kshatriya 100 13.5 50 25
Vaishya 200 100 13.5 50
Shudra 500 200 100 13.5

The verses from Chapter 20 of the Brihaspati Smriti are being reproduced for reference here:

  1. When persons equal in caste and qualities abuse one another, the punishment ordained for them in the system of law is thirteen Panas and a half.

  2. For a Brahman abusing a Kshatriya, the fine shall be half of a hundred (fifty Panas); for abusing a Vaisya, half of fifty (twenty-five Panas); for abusing a Sûdra, thirteen and a half.

  3. A Vaisya shall be fined a hundred (Panas) for reviling a Kshatriya; a Kshatriya reviling a Vaisya shall have to pay half of that amount as a fine.

  4. In the case of a Kshatriya reviling a Sûdra, the fine shall be twenty Panas; in the case of a Vaisya, the double amount is declared to be the proper fine by persons learned in law.

  5. A Sûdra shall be compelled to pay the first fine for abusing a Vaisya; the middling fine (for abusing) a Kshatriya; and the highest fine (for abusing) a Brahman.

I have taken figures of ‘the first fine’ etc from Narada as stated in comparitive notes to Manu 8.138

As we can see here there is no corporal punishment, although the same Brihaspati prescribes tongue cutting for “any person” (not Shudra, read Sanskrit verse) teaching a Brahmin about Dharma.

Answer ends here. For those who want an insight into possible interpolations in Manusmriti please read further.


2. Manu maybe an interpolation

We know that Manu is the original propagator of Dharma, of the Upanga of the Vedas. The other Dharmahastras too derive their authority from Manu. (Refer the question : Details on the Original Dharma Shastra by Prajapati Manu). The same is the case with the Brihaspati Smriti deriving authority from Manu.

In the Introduction to the ‘Brihaspati Smriti (Reconstructed)’, the author, K. V. Rangaswami Aiyangar, has gone on repeating Brihaspati’s loyalty to Manu in several places and yet many divergences are reflected. I’ve picked a few:

On p.80 and p.304, infra, occur two ślokas which are ascribed to Brihaspati by a large number of writers from Lakshmidhara onwards. They give a list of nine ordeals and end with a statement that they were all noted by Swayambhū (i.e. Manu). In Manusmriti there are only three verses dealing with ordeals, and they describe only two of them viz. Fire and water (VIII 109-110) ... Brihaspati’s categorical assertion that all nine had been dealt with by Manu, suggests a lacuna in the Manusmriti unless we postulate a difference between the Swayambhuva version and a Bhargava version of Manu. (Page 115 para 66)

In another case also a comprehensive enumeration ascribed by Brihaspati to Manu is not confirmed by the extant smriti. (Para 67)

The detailed considerations of relations of the Brihaspatismriti to the Manusmriti establishes the close connection between them and the posterity of the former definitely to the latter. This conclusion relates only to what the extant Manusmriti offers in a comparative study of it with the available fragments of the Brihaspati. It doesn’t overlook the possibility of both having been available in older forms and having undergone recasting. That the Brihaspati fragments maybe anterior to the final redaction of Manu which Medhatithi standardised, seems to be suggested by the citation of views from Manu for which authority is the standard text of this Smriti in wanting. It is possible therefore that in the reconstructed Brihaspati there are passages much older than the present text of the Manusmriti... as every writer whose name occurs in these is anterior to Manu’s code... (Para 77)

From the above we can see that the current version of Manu available to us is not entirely original. The Brihaspati though hints at deriving its authority from Manu, is divergent in many places. As stated above, an older text (Brihaspati) being more liberal than a later one (Manu) shows issues in ensuing years and that such concepts were NOT prevalent earlier.

Also, as hinted at here about interpolation and explained here how Manu keeps contradicting itself, there is again a strong point in favour of the extant Manusmriti being (or not) interpolated.

A wonderful answer describes possible attempts by some elements at destroying the very support (Shudra constituting 70% population) of the pyramid of the Indian caste system. If we say Shudra is to be killed, modern “educated” people like us are bound to believe it and despise our own culture blindly.

  • Is such an interpolation and deliberate attempt possible for the case of punishment too?
  • If a Shudra reads this isn’t he bound to feel dejected and despise his cultural roots?

In my opinion yes. Not to make too much of such lofty interpolated statements.

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    If you have people like Max Muller and indologists teaching you about your own culture from Contemporary manuscripts (without evidence of earlier ones), there’s a serious problem.
    – Adiyarkku
    May 25 at 7:25
  • The Manu Smrti can't be too old though, as if you try and date when it applies it actually has to be the future of this Manvantara, by reasoning I detailed in my answer here. Because it references events close to the modern-day, any possible interpolation had to have happened quickly. hinduism.stackexchange.com/questions/46146/… May 25 at 9:28
  • SE citation rules require 1) "Provide a link to the original page or answer" and 2) "Provide the name of the original author", so I've edited your answer to add the missing credits. Hopefully, you'll accept the edit. May 26 at 14:12
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    @sv. It was alright thank you very much. Edited the answer to link it to the exact page and linked my copy instead, for the first quote, for ease of reference.
    – Adiyarkku
    May 26 at 14:37
  • Given that the present form of Manu Smriti is interpolated and that the other smritis derive their authority from the original Manu Smriti, would it then be logical to trust Yajnavalkya Smriti, Brihaspati Smriti, etc. over it? Also, why would there be a need to write multiple smriti texts if there is one supreme text? May 26 at 16:44
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A Brāhmaṇa is not just fine. These two verses still apply:

श्रुतं देशं च जातिं च कर्म शरीरमेव च ?? । वितथेन ब्रुवन् दर्पाद् दाप्यः स्याद् द्विशतं दमम् ॥ २७३ ॥

śrutaṃ deśaṃ ca jātiṃ ca karma śarīrameva ca ?? | vitathena bruvan darpād dāpyaḥ syād dviśataṃ damam || 273 ||

He who, through arrogance, speaks falsely regarding the learning, the habitat, the caste, the occupation, or the bodily details (of another person), should be made to pay a pine of two hundred.—(273)

काणं वाऽप्यथ वा खञ्जमन्यं वाऽपि तथाविधम् । तथ्येनापि ब्रुवन् दाप्यो दण्डं कार्षापणावरम् ॥ २७४ ॥

kāṇaṃ vā'pyatha vā khañjamanyaṃ vā'pi tathāvidham | tathyenāpi bruvan dāpyo daṇḍaṃ kārṣāpaṇāvaram || 274 ||

If a man, even truly, calls another ‘one-eyed’ or ‘lame’ or something else like it,—he should be made to pay a fine of at least one ‘Kārṣāpaṇa.’—(274)

P.S. While the burning punishments seem harsh, I just assume from how relaxed the Manusmṛiti is while talking about them, the people of this world don't have as high a pain response to fire.

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  • Punishments can't be harsh. They can only be just or unjust.
    – Rickross
    May 25 at 6:53
  • @Rickross, punishment can be harsh. If they're given more than what one deserves. For ex: the punishment suffered by Manďavya rișhi was both unjust and harsh, as per the sin he committed in his childhood. Now he was a rişhi to have punished the death god himself. However, "normal humans" don't have such powers to raise voice against such tyranny, if they occur.
    – peace
    May 25 at 9:21
  • " punishment can be harsh. If they're given more than what one deserves" --- if that is the case then that's a case of unjust punishment. If the crime is heinous but the punishment isn't harsh enough then that's not justice @Vivikta
    – Rickross
    May 25 at 9:38
  • @Vivikta Why did you remove the links? May 26 at 11:33
  • Nope, I hyperlinked the links. You can click on Transliterations - 273 & 274 for hyperlinks.
    – peace
    May 26 at 11:36

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