The aim of this post is to show that contrary to the popular imaginations, Chanakya/Kautilya and his writings are inherently casteist, manifestly inegalitarian, and outwardly realist and that the values espoused therein clearly militate against the broad constitutional values and international human rights laws that aim to promote a social order based on human dignity, justice, and equity.
Chanakya has long been considered a pioneer in the field of political science and economics in India, and his political and economic treatise ‘Arthashastra’ is often highlighted as an epitome of classical economics by successive post-colonial Indian dispensations so much so that the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) is working on schemes to provide robust fundings for researches on this ancient Brahmanical treatise under the broader vision of Modi Government to link the Vedic texts with modern knowledge system as per the draft New Education Policy (NEP).
It is interesting to note the inherent contradiction and paradox therein as on one hand the draft NEP speaks about equity, inclusiveness and sustainable development at many points, starting from the preamble but on the other hand, it vehemently eulogises the likes of Chanakya who brazenly advocated anything but equity and inclusiveness.
A careful reading of the Arthashashtra shows that like many other Hindu-Brahmanical texts, it is consistent in advocating the four-fold division of mankind and duties of the four castes as determined by the Veda.
In Chapter 3 (titled as-The end of Sciences) it provides-‘As the triple Vedas definitely determine the respective duties of the four castes and of the four orders of religious life, they are the most useful. The duty of the Brahman is study, teaching, performance of sacrifice, officiating in others’ sacrificial performance and the giving and receiving of gifts. That of a Kshatriya is study, performance of sacrifice, giving gifts, military occupation, and protection of life. That of a Vaisya is study, performance of sacrifice, giving gifts, agriculture, cattle breeding, and trade. That of a Shudra is the serving of twice-born (dvijati), agriculture, cattle-breeding, and trade (varta), the profession of artisans and court-bards (karukusilavakarma).’
Now, this caste-based determination of duties completely goes against the over-arching spirit of the Indian constitution that secures to its citizens the right to practice any profession, trade, occupation or business under Article 19(1)(g).
Chanakya also leaves no stone unturned in appeasing and cajoling the Kshatriya or the Warrior and Ruling classes by promising/guaranteeing them invincibility and success in warfare provided they take the good counsel of the Brahmins and be faithful to the Shashtras ie to make sure through the power of their sword that everybody’s conduct should confirm to the norms of the structure of caste.
In Chapter 9 (titled as-The creation of councillors and priests) he writes-‘That Kshatriya breed which is brought up by Bráhmans, is charmed with the counsels of good councillors, and which faithfully follows the precepts of the sástras becomes invincible and attains success though unaided with weapons.’
The Justice and penal system envisaged by Chanakya in Arthashastra is highly regressive, oppressive and disproportionate. In the Arthshastra, the quantum and nature of punishment for various offenses depend not on the nature of crime but on one’s caste. It is quite disturbing to note that for the same offense of adultery, a Kshatriya man is to be punished with mere amercement/fine but a person belonging to the Shudra category has to be burnt alive rounded in mats.
In chapter 13 (titled as-punishment for violating justice) it provides-‘A Kshatriya who commits adultery with an unguarded Bráhman woman shall be punished with the highest amercement; a Vaisya doing the same shall be deprived of the whole of his property; and a Shúdra shall be burnt alive wound round in mats.’
In chapter 19 (titled as-Assault) it provides. ‘That limb of a Shúdra with which he strikes a Bráhman shall be cut off.’
In chapter 10 (titled as-Fines in lieu of mutilation of limbs) it provides-‘When a Shúdra calls himself a Bráhman, or when any person steals the property of gods, conspires against the king, or destroys both the eyes of another, he shall either have his eyes destroyed by the application of poisonous ointment, or pay a fine of 800 panas.’
These concepts of justice and caste-based disproportionate and cruel punishments mentioned in Arthashashtra clearly militate against Indian statutes and constitution especially Articles 14 which talks about right to equality; Article 15 which prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth; Article 16 which provides for equality of opportunity in matters of public employment; Article 19 that provides for various freedoms; and Article 21 that guarantees all person the right to life and which have been interpreted by the Supreme Court to be inclusive of right to a dignified life.
These Chanakyan edicts in Arthshastra fly in the face of various provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR) and other international conventions that provide that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
It is not unsurprising that the very idea of equality of human dignity was historically non-existent in the Hindu-Brahman dominated social system. And if this being the case, then the intention of the current law-makers of India who harp on the ancient Indian glory becomes questionable. Their oath of allegiance to the Indian constitution also becomes questionable if they continue to celebrate, sanctify, internalise and normalise the ancient Hindu-Brahmanical works and treatises whose callous and despotic values do not correspond with the liberal welfare values of the constitution that strive to promote a social order in which justice, equity and equality (social, economic & political), are supposed to inform the institutions of the national and public life, and not caste. These Brahmanical treatises therefore should be a matter of national shame and condemnation, and not of exploration, pride, and celebration.
The people before you were destroyed because they used to inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich.Prophet Muhammad (s)-(Sahih al-Bukhari Volume 8, Book 81, Number 778, narrated by Aisha (r))
- Kautilya’s Arthashastra (Translated into English by R. Shamasastry)
- Constituent Assembly Debates (CLPR)
- The Constitution of India
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN)
- Draft National Education Policy
- Sahih al-Bukhari (English Translation by M Muhsin Khan)