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Can someone explain to me the reason why most of the crueler punishments were to lower Varnas and the very nature of them being cruel and capital in nature? Seeing as the crime doesn't match the severity of the punishment in many not all cases.

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I have seen two kinds of punishment in Shastras one is self-awarded (Prayaschit) and the other being awarded by state (Danda).

Manusmriti, one of the authoritative text, generally deals with punishments that are awarded by state in chapter 8. There are also self-awarded punishment in chapter 11 but majority of that chapter is contradictory to other parts of Manusmriti itself.

Most of the punishment in chapter 8 has no distinction of Varna:

The king must order that the organs used by one to steal be cut. (8/334)

If someone steal the rope or pot from the well, thief must pay 0.972g of gold. (319)

Manu is also accused of exempting Brahmins from punishment but:

Either Mother, or Father, or Friend, or Acharya, or Wife, or Priest or the son, those who are not following their Dharma can be punished by the king. (No one is immune from the punishment) (8/335)

Even the king is not immune from the punishment:

If a person, in committing crime, is subjected to a punishment of 1 pana, the king must be punished by 1000 panas. This is the principle of Shastras. (8/336)

There is also a punishment that differentiate criminal based on Varna but whether this should be extrapolated or not to other punishment is subjective.

The point I am trying to make here is that as per Manu there was positive differential treatment of criminals. The one with high responsibility (King) has to be punished more. (See also 7/16)

At later point of time stratification in society might have increased that led to negative differential treatment. This is why we find inhumane punishment for even minor offences:

On abusing a Brahmin, the Kshatriya must be punished with 100 panas, the Vaishya must be punished with 250 panas and the Shudra should be beaten. (8/267)

Heated oil must be put into the ear and mouth on the Shudra who, under influence of pride, preach Brahmin about Dharma.

The only harsh punishment Manu has described is for the wife who left her husband and went to another man in pride of her characteristics and for such a man who did same with her wife, in that case both such man and woman be burnt to death, by putting them on hot iron bed, in front of public. The good thing about above is there is no differential treatment in this.

So to answer your question as to why cruel punishment for certain Varnas, the answer is simple: Cruel punishment for certain varnas were not present earlier in Hindu society but as population increased leading to resource deprivation and hence people felt the need to control resources leading to social stratification which eventually lead to inequality. (That is why tribal structures are egalitarian but I would not explain them here as answer would then become a sociology paper rather being an explaination of your answer.)

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  • The punishment for Shudras makes absolute sense though if they preach wrongdoing not simply out of foolishness, but pride the amount of damage they could cause to the intellectual world is serious hence punishment must be adminstered. Although I believe that punishment is too severe.
    – Haridasa
    Mar 27 at 11:05
  • @estimator instead of just mentioning it as conjecture. Please tell me what part you consider Conjecture.
    – madhurkant
    Mar 27 at 16:26
  • @Haridasa The question is not about making sense. It’s about the why of cruel punishment. Although I agree with you.
    – madhurkant
    Mar 27 at 16:27
  • @madhurkant yes, but the why allows it to make sense kind of, so while metaphysics is a part I want to know the observable benefits of such punishments.
    – Haridasa
    Mar 27 at 22:11
  • @estimator I do not care about up/down vote. I just asked where you felt the answer contains conjecture?
    – madhurkant
    Mar 28 at 16:34

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