BULL STREET - The art of the Con

The Laws of Manu 1280 BC to 880 BC

This series of laws which was contemporaneously redefined and expanded was passed on from generation to generation and formed the legal basis for the caste system in India. It was interesting what an important part clothes played under this system. During this time it was believed that what you wore was your badge. It distinguished your social standing or caste. Should someone wear the clothes that would outwardly magnify his station, “a man receiving a wrong or inappropriate gift (clothes) is reduced to ashes…a garment will destroy his skin” The Laws of Manu, iv:189. Thus, a maliciously bestowed garment will reduce the wearer to ashes. “In many contexts, clothes literally are authority, which can be transferred from person to person to create a hierarchy and to ensure continuity of succession.”[5]

Laws seemed now to be popping up all over the place, and the more civilized a people seemed to become, the greater the number of people that there were falling under the bureaucratic chain of command, the more necessary it became to create a system which dealt decisively with both crime and punishment. Little did these country’s fathers realize, that with the advent of lawyers springs bureaucracy, which in turn breeds chaos and then comes stultification, the reason for lawyer’s existence. . Scholars have been trying to place the exact point in time when these laws attributed to Manu were created. However, these laws were created for the more religious followers of Brahmanism.

They say that Manu (a really mythical character) was a survivor of a Noah-like flood and that he eventually became the father of the human race.

“Hindu myth's version of Noah, Manu (Manu Vaivasvate) was washing his hands in the river one day when the waters brought to him a tiny fish, which begged him to save it, saying that it would return the favor. Manu naturally asked the fish how it thought it could save him, and it replied that there was a great flood on the way, which would wash away all living things. So Manu put the fish in a pot, but it soon outgrew this, and he had to move it successively to a tank, a lake, and finally the sea itself. Once there, the fish advised Manu to build a boat, for the flood was coming. Manu complied, and when the ship was built and the waters rose, the fish returned and towed the vessel by a cable fastened to its home, thus saving Manu. (The fish was Vishnu in his first incarnation as Matsya.”[6]

While it would seem odd that “Adam” or his like would have considered making laws for all of his progeny because in the beginning they did not exist, this is exactly what Manu was said to have accomplished; a magnificent accomplishment. However, these laws primarily deal with caste segregation and regulation, the important things back then. When Manu and his helpers finished their writings, there were over twenty-five hundred verses divided into twelve chapters that make up the entire work.

“The ‘Laws of Manu’ offers an interesting ideal picture of domestic, social, and religious life in India under ancient Brahmin influence. The picture has its shadows. The dignity of the Brahmin case was greatly exaggerated, while the Sudra case was so far despised as to be excluded under pain of death from participation in the Brahmin religion. Punishments for crimes and misdemeanors were lightest when applied to offenders of the Brahmin caste, and increased in severity for the guilty members of the warrior, farmer, and serf cast respectively. Most forms of industry and practice of medicine were held in contempt, and were forbidden to both Brahmin and warriors. The mind of woman was held to be fickle, sensual, and incapable of proper self-direction. Hence it was lad down that women were to be held in strict subjection to the end of their lives…”[7]

Below you will find a short idea of some of the regulations that were imposed by the “Laws of Manu” relative to various subjects:

Book III 239 A Kandala, a village pig, a cock, a dog, a menstruating woman, and a eunuch must not look at the Brahmanas while they eat.

Book V 154 Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, yet a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife.

Book VI 175 A twice-born man who commits an unnatural offence with a male, or has intercourse with a female in a cart drawn by oxen, in water or in the daytime has committed a sinful act.

Book VIII 352 Men who commit adultery with the wives of others, the kind shall cause to be marked bit punishments, which cause terror, and afterwards, banishment.

While the “Laws of Manu” were totally oriented towards establishment of a social hierarchy, they were not oppressively grisly in nature. Serious punishment for crimes was held to a bare minimum, at least for those times. This probably was because of the fact that the laws combined both the parochial and the civil in one combined document. Many had said that this probably caused the tempering of its severity in God’s decency. Moreover, the laws were established to create a higher calling for the Brahmin’s and thus were somewhat harsher in their treatments of the upper castes.

Once again, we find that the laws of Manu hold women’s place to be less than inferior: “In childhood a woman must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, and when her lord is dead, to her sons. A woman must never be independent.” Sadly, many sociologists have determined that because of women being so subservient, it was necessary for them to provide dowries. The situation in most of the rest of the world is totally reversed especially in China where so many female babies have been aborted or killed as infants because of that country’s restrictive population measures, that women command extremely substantive amounts.

However, many murders occur each year in India by husbands or their families looking to collect just one more dowry from another woman. “The police here say that not all deaths of young brides by fire are caused by dowry disputes, but women’s groups say that in New Delhi alone there are at least two dowry deaths every day. Although dowries were supposedly outlawed in 1961, dowry deaths have become a modern plague throughout India.”[8] (In 1999 independent statistics reported over six thousand dowry deaths a year in India.



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