Nowadays one of the recurrent views I see expressed on the internet is that the current norms in Indian society were brought in by the British or the Islamic invaders, and were not present in ancient India. An example would be this post on reddit that claims:
- Women could go around topless in public.
- There were no rules around sex. You could have sex with any gender without being judged.
- "log apne naam ke aage apne maa ka naam lagaya karte thhe". i.e. People would use their mother's surname.
However, I have always found it hard to believe such claims for a few reasons:
- People make up stuff to suit their agendas. There are Christians that - in order to appear modern - claim there is no conflict between Christ's teachings and homosexuality, or no-fault divorce, or abortion etc. However, most mainstream Christian scholars would disagree. Such views only emerged recently, and contradict the Christian tradition through most of history.
- Having grown up in India and watching Ramayana and Mahabharata the impression I got of Vedic society is one that is very modest and conservative. The 'cheer haran' of Draupadi wouldn't be as scandalous if women were used to going around topless. Similarly, if someone claimed that Sita went around topless, people would be offended and rightly so.
- Exception does not drive the rule. There are depictions of beastiality on Ajanta caves. But I've always thought that was an exceptional thing limited to a certain region and not the general practice all over India and not a part of Hinduism. Similarly, women being topless might have been a tribal thing.
- These claims always seem to come from people who have nationalistic and anti-British/American views. Which is not to say they are wrong, but makes you wonder of their biases. And ironically, they might be trying to retro fit modern western culture (about sex etc) onto ancient Indian society.
So my question is: What is the consensus view among Hindu scholars on appropriate societal norms? How much truth is such in such claims that these are radically different from modern Indian norms? Emphasis on consensus view, because I'm more interested in understanding the broader tradition than someone's personal opinion.