Hindu Jurisprudence and Rape
Rape is a crime that means carnal knowledge of a woman's body without her consent. In effect it means forcible sexual intercourse and subsequent gratification of a mans desire. Not many know that Hindu jurisprudence as codified by the 'Laws of Manu' is in existence for over 6000 years. This makes it the oldest legal statute in the world, much older than the Hebrew legal code as laid down by Moses.
The Laws of Manu were the guiding principle of Hindu jurisprudence till about the 10th century, when the Muslim rule commenced in India. In Muslim ruled states, the Hindu law was replaced by the Sharia. Both Hindu and Muslim law were superseded with the advent of the British who framed the Indian Penal Code.
The Laws of Manu are enshrined in a volume attributed to him and referred to as the ' Manusmriti'. The Laws of Manu cover all facets of Hindu Society, but one glaring omission is rape. The Manusmriti does not mention rape as a crime and in fact completely ignores this aspect of human conduct. On the contrary Hindu law recognises marriage by abduction as one of the forms of marriage. It stands to reason that if a woman was abducted even against her will she, had to submit to the man who had abducted her as abduction or kidnapping a woman for marriage and related sexual intercourse was not an offence.
The Bhagwad Purana in the 13th Chapter justifies abduction of a woman. The Bhagwad Purana must not be confused with the Bhagavad Gita, which is the sermon given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna before the Battle of Kurukshetra. In the Bhagwad Purana it is clearly mentioned that lord Krishna abducted the princess Rukmini and gives abduction a sanctity. Most Hindu kings including the Great Bhishma who abducted the three daughters of Raja Kashya, the king of Kashi in a swayamvara against their will followed the Bhagwad Purana.. This is an example of abduction being recognized as a legitimate right.
Hindu jurisprudence never recognized rape and abduction as a crime. Considering the stress on rule by Dharma, it is hard to understand why Hindu law never recognized this aspect of man -woman relations. Worse the laws of Manu give explicit right to a higher caste Hindu to have sex with a lower caste woman or a Shudra, even without her consent. In the reverse scenario a Shudra having sex with a higher caste woman was to be executed.
These obnoxious laws were rendered null and void, with the advent of the East India Company and subsequently the Crown passed the IPC, to make rape a crime punishable by 7 years rigorous imprisonment. So lets remember there is a silver lining to British rule and people should not forget it.
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