India! I dare you to be rich

Category Archive: Philosophy

Only PURE capitalism can save India’s soul, torn asunder by socialism.

I've repeatedly said this – that capitalism is the only MORAL system. Posting below an extract from an email sent a short while ago:


Our effort is, at its root, a moral effort: to bring integrity of thought and action to India. And ONLY capitalism can do that:

"a truly free enterprise, competitive capitalism is the most moral and humanely beneficial way for people to live together that has ever been stumbled upon by mankind."

The people, on the other hand, have been fed falsehoods all their lives, and don't understand this. It is our job to explain it to them. 

Therefore the idea that we should avoid the words "liberal" / liberalism/ capitalism is amazing. It would be like saying we don't believe in liberty. We must talk ONLY about liberty and capitalism. Hammer it in for years on end. Only then will some people get the message.

Indeed, I note that all complaints against "capitalism" are based on a severe misunderstanding/ misrepresentation of the system. That barrier has to be overcome not by side-tracking it and renaming our ideology "socialism" but by calling our ideology capitalism and directly attacking socialism. And attacking the moral failures of socialism.

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Why I’m classical liberal and not a tax-cheating libertarian who breaks the law

Below, for my record, from FB. I have strong differences with libertarians who support SECRETLY breaking the law because they don’t agree with it.

My comment

Tax havenry has reached a peak. USA is losing massive amounts of tax. So are all other countries.

“The Internal Revenue Service treats the U.S. Virgin Islands as a foreign country, a designation that when combined with the incentives fuels a legal accounting alchemy in which high-tax U.S. profits are funneled to the low-tax islands. While plenty of non-U.S. havens have come under intense media attention in recent years, there is little focus on the U.S. Virgin Islands, the only nearly tax-free haven in the world to fly the American flag.”

Dalip Kumar Seth Check your own stated liberal premises Sanjeev and be clear that under all current systems there are morally correct grounds to tax individuals or corporates.

Sanjeev Sabhlok Don’t get your point. Pl. elaborate.

Dalip Kumar Seth When the end use of funds is immoral then recovery of taxes for those activities also loses any moral found.

Dalip Kumar Seth Ground

Sanjeev Sabhlok Dalip Kumar Seth you have the choice as citizen to ensure moral end use – at least in democracies like India. There is no basis to deny revenues to legitimately elected governments by tax cheats. Everyone must pay their taxes if they wish to live or do business in India.

Dalip Kumar Seth Your philosophy is on shaky grounds — in ethics ! Going by numbers alone any idea against the present dispensation must be considered unpatriotic. Right ?

Christopher Lingle “legitimately elected governments” is not enough … if tax revenues are squandered, stolen, wasted that is grounds for withholding (“cheating” !?!) on taxes … the true tax cheats are venal, corrupt government officials … when that is solved, then speak about behavior of taxpayers

Sanjeev Sabhlok I strongly differ. If you disagree with the tax regime and DON’T work to change it through the democratic process, that doesn’t give you the right to cheat on taxes. As far as I’m concerned that’s a severe criminal offence. I have noticed earlier, as well, some “libertarians” promoting tax theft. I consider them to be criminals, pure and simple.

Christopher Lingle A dose of Public Choice is in order here … Libertarians are as opposed to theft as to aggression. But they support keeping more rather than is what is rightly earned.

Sanjeev Sabhlok Regardless of all public choice incentives, the civilised free society has to resolve this issue through the democratic (non-violent) process. By all means join politics and change the laws. But cheating/ evasion etc. merely means that the legitimate will of the people on how public goods are to be funded, is willfully denied. Such tax cheats deserve only one place in life: the prison.

Christopher Lingle it is an unfair match … governments have the monopoly on legal use of violence … those that wish to pursue non-violent opposition to governments that might be imposed on them by 51% have few choices other than evasion/avoidance of taxes or emigration … I am truly amazed you

Sanjeev Sabhlok I disagree with the idea that democratically created laws are coercive. I’m not talking about fake democracies like USSR.

Yes, there is a monopoly of govt. on legal use of violence but that’s because we give it that monopoly.

By all means leave a country whose laws you disagree with and which you do not wish to change through the democratic process. If a tax evader/cheat wants to stay in a democracy and make use of its public goods BUT not pay taxes, then prison is the only suitable place for such person. He/she had better leave, rather quickly!

Christopher Lingle emphatically NO! the ones that should leave the country (or be imprisoned) are the venal & corrupt politicians … what proportion of them face that fate … is any country better off if entrepreneurs take the Galt’s Gulch option … which group would any country be better off without … ? you really cannot be serious about this … I know you are committed to being part of the electoral process, but do not let it cloud your thinking!!!

Dalip Kumar Seth First allow creation and safety of Galt’s Gulch. Before seeking my voluntary contribution to its. Growth and welfare.

Sanjeev Sabhlok Let’s agree to strongly disagree on this issue. This is where libertarianism becomes libertine philosophy and becomes anti-social and severely corrupt. I am firmly classical liberal and not libertarian.

Your position is against the rule of law. Hence I reject it


The basic classical liberal tax principle is no taxation without representation. Once representation has been assured, and taxes determined through appropriations bills, the rule of law kicks in. I detest libertarians for their denial of basic principles of the rule of law.

You have ONE vote. You must use it to change the law. Once law kicks in you BETTER PAY UP. Or go to jail. Period. That’s the meaning of the rule of law and of representation.




Full support for crackdown on tax evaders.

Donald Keys Tax is nothing more than theft of private assets by the state to fund its own agenda.


Sanjeev Sabhlok When taxation is WITH representation (that’s the max one can demand) then it is not theft.


Donald Keys If one is forced to hand over a proportion of their productivity, against their will, it is indeed theft. If an individual coercively extracts money from another individual the action is deemed to be theft… so it follows that if a group of individuals calling themselves government does exactly the same thing it is still theft.


Sanjeev Sabhlok The ONLY claim the Americans made (and all reasonable people make) is “no taxation without representation”. Anyone who denies the right of a fully representative government to tax for providing public goods should create his/her own place in a remote jungle, and organise his/her own defence/ roads/ police/ justice at own cost. The ONLY remedy for tax evaders is the jail.


Donald Keys I feel the the instigation of force is immoral. Interaction between people needs to be founded on voluntary cooperation before those people can claim to be civilized. When governments hold their position by legislating a monopoly on coercion, and extracting a portion of one’s productivity, against the will of the producer of that productivity, that is no different to slavery—taking money, theft, taking your productivity, slavery.

Sanjeev Sabhlok “Interaction between people needs to be founded on voluntary cooperation”. That precisely is the meaning and purpose of representation.

Donald Keys Unfortunately, as written above, “The ONLY remedy for tax evaders is the jail.” illustrates that representation is not voluntary. In Australia, even voting is compulsory. There was no income tax until after World War One, and once introduced, taxation has grown year upon year… feeding an ever increasing public sector. There is no moral basis to take from another by force. Currently, the relationship between citizen and government is the same as that between farmer and cow. Governments fight over tax bases and citizenry to feed a greedy and ever growing public service… who supply services that could just as easily be provided by the private sector on a voluntary basis. Taxation is theft.

Sanjeev Sabhlok Donald, that tax EVADERS are jailed is no reason to suggest that “representation is not voluntary”. Only the CRIMINALS are jailed – those who – after representation – refuse to abide by laws. Let them rot in jail. I have no sympathy for such cheaters.

Re: your other points, re: the form and type of taxation, that is subsumed under the right of “no taxation without representation”. It doesn’t exclude one form or other of taxes. Let the representative body decide.

You are free to leave and live in a jungle. So long as you CHOOSE to live in a civilised society you are mandatorily required to pay your taxes. Sorry, your view that tax is theft is NOT valid in any legitimate and functioning democracy. If you don’t like a particular tax, go and change the laws.



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Singularity is ONLY about intelligence. Conscious computers are a million years away.

Consciousness is not a program but a set of feelings that arise from millions, even trillions of life-preserving 'programs' (in the case of man). It is an EVOLUTIONARY outcome, not an outcome of intelligent design.

Only living things can 'feel', for these (feelings) are biofeedback signals of various elements of the "life" program.

So here is further proof that Kurzweil is wrong about the Singularity representing consciousness. It is ONLY about intelligence, which is but a minor sub-set of the processes that protect our existence. I have no doubt that computers can become intelligent (in a SUBSET of the fields of intelligence) by 2040. They will therefore help expand the mind of man. But will NOT take over mankind.


Sanjeev Sabhlok

I CAN'T AGREE WITH KURZWEIL ON THIS. I disagree with his definition of consciousness. "Intelligence" is not consciousness.


"When computers do reach the stage that they can compete with, or outstrip, humans in intelligence, Kurzweil said that he is ready to accept them as conscious beings. There is no experiment that can be run to determine if an entity is conscious, he said, but robots and computers will likely someday claim to be experiencing it. He described accepting their consciousness as a “leap of faith” that other people will take too."  [Source]

Sharad Bailur How do you know that I am conscious? The concept itself is subjective. Hence the Turing test and other such attempts. We may never know that a computer is conscious except when it tells us so. And since we built it we may not recognise its telling us so, as consciousness. This is an issue that needs to be solved first before we talk about consciousness. But then it takes us iinto philosophy iin the absence of other tools.

Sanjeev Sabhlok "How do you know that I am conscious?" I've dealt with extensively on my blog recently. Basically, life (from which originates any form of consciousness) has a will to live.

You have a will to live. You know that "you" exist and will fight to defend your existence. I explained this in a number of contexts, e.g. Deepak Chopra's challenge to Randi, etc. Let me link a few blog posts on this topic.

All properties of life are crucial in any organism that claims to have consciousness. Being "conscious" without having the ability to act, to defend, to self-sustain, is not possible. That (AI) is a mere appendage of the human being.

Sharad Bailur I am not sure that a desire for survival ( or will to live as you call it) is an indication of consciousness. A desire for survival can be programmed into a computer. In fact Asimov based one of his three laws on it.

Sanjeev Sabhlok Desire for survival is not a conscious "desire" alone – it is an urge at a level far more fundamental. It harks back to the concept of life itself. There are many other characteristics that underpin the "feeling" called consciousness. Just solving problems is not consciousness. A complete sense – and "innate" need – of independent existence is crucial.

Bhagwad Jal Park Yup, the "desire for survival" is a behavior that can I can write a (sufficiently advanced) program to emulate. In fact, this whole point is a bit moot. You can claim that I'm conscious, but you have no proof. On the other hand, I can say that I'm the only person in the whole world who is conscious. The rest of you just act like it .

More importantly, we ourselves are machines. Incredibly complex and sophisticated no doubt. But still machines. Unless one starts talking about things like the "soul" etc.

Sanjeev Sabhlok Bhagwad Jal Park, you missed the point. Consciousness is definitely a program of some sort, but it is not something that is "written", it evolves – through evolutionary fight for survival.

Bhagwad Jal Park Sanjeev Sabhlok If nature evolves it, we can create it given the right tools. The brain is just a physical machine after all no?

Sanjeev Sabhlok The brain is a machine with a PURPOSE. It is an evolutionary tool designed to propagate life. It doesn't exist in isolation, like a "stand-alone" computer.

Bhagwad Jal Park The brain's drive is to make us have sex. Having children is a side effect. The brain doesn't care if we procreate or not. As far as nature is concerned, sex is good enough. It's a different matter that we have cheated nature via contraceptives! There is no "purpose", no intelligent design. Without intelligent design, there cannot be a purpose. By pure chance, the drive to have sex aids procreation, so those genes got passed on. There is no guiding hand here.

Sanjeev Sabhlok "The brain doesn't care if we procreate or not". Bhagwad, I trust you are fully on top of evolutionary theory. It is NOT that any creature "decides" to reproduce in order to pass on its genes. Instead, ONLY those creatures that succeed in passing on their genes get to do anything in the future. We only see those that succeeded: hence only those behaviours that lead to success survive. Others die out.

I don't mean that a "purpose" in the sense of "intelligent design", but in the sense of the logic of evolution: only those creatures that survive and reproduce get to live. This business is purely driven by FITNESS, not by "design".

Consciousness is but a small TOOL to survive into the future. It is like having leg or tail. Just one more evolutionary tool. A tool created for a specific "purpose" (in the evolutionary sense!).

There is no underlying logic for AI to survive into the future as a separate entity. If any AI robot tries to dominate me, I'll "kill" it by switching off its power – or otherwise sabotage it.

Since the AI machine was not evolved into its current form (at singularity) but created through "Intelligent design", it is NOT based on the principle of fitness. Hence its "consciousness" is just a program, not an evolutionary tool.

Unless it demonstrates an ability (and determination) to conquer mankind and possibly enslave it, all AI will be mere automation: an appendage of man.

Only if it is determined to survive on its own, to pass on its 'genes' (in the evolutionary, not "intelligent design" sense) and DOMINATE other creatures, will it display "consciousness" in the wakeful human sense of the word.

Bhagwad Jal Park I agree with most of what you say. There is indeed no "decision" to reproduce. Similarly, no creature "wants" to pass on its genes either. All creatures care about is having sex which so happens to pass on genes. One can say that the desire to have sex is directly linked to "fitness".

Consciousness is definitely an evolutionary tool. But if we understand how that tool works (and there's no reason why we will not be able to do so), there's nothing to stop us from transferring that tool onto any mechanical device if we know how.

Also, a machine can be conscious and STILL be an appendage of man. Unless some scientist or programmer decides to program it to survive and reproduce, or whatever. Which might very well happen. In fact, I don't see how it can NOT happen.

I can very well program a creature with an imperative – "go forth and reproduce"! No one is stopping me.


MY LAST COMMENT: I am glad that Bhagwad agrees that consciousness is not a simple 'program' but an evolutionary tool to preserve life.  I think Bhagawad is being arrogant to imagine that he can "program" something to reproduce and give it the properties and 'needs' of life.

I am pushing that event back another million years. This is not to prevent people from writing such programs or making progress. Simply that this is not something that will happen soon.



"Consciousness is … something physical. Consciousness is always supervening onto the physical. But it takes a particular type of hardware to instantiate it. A computer made up of transistors, moving charge on and off a gate, with each gate being connected to a small number of other gates, is just a very different cause-and-effect structure than what we have in the brain, where you have one neuron connected to 10,000 input neurons and projecting to 10,000 other neurons. But if you were to build the computer in the appropriate way, like a neuromorphic computer [see “Thinking in Silicon”], it could be conscious." [Source]


This is useful discussion by Russ Roberts based on his talk with Nick Bostrom. I agree with Russ. HUGE difference between AI and independent consciousness and existence (life). I'm keen to dump my brain onto a computer, but that will never be me. For I both grow and shrink, both learn and forget at the same time. I'm never the same twice, but I'm still the same.


My comment on this article: Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness

Because it is driven by hundreds of millions of years survival as a group of cells. It is the underpinning of the coordination between the  trillions of our cells. It is not the signal, nor its reception, or storage. It is (Part 1) the interpretation of ALL signals at the same time, based on deep heuristics embedded in our DNA, and (Part 2) an ongoing (superficial – with 99 per cent of the work happening sub-consciously) mechanism to advance our survival. 


Science fiction is partly responsible for these fears. A common trope works as follows.

Step 1: Humans create AI to perform some unpleasant or difficult task.

Step 2: The AI becomes conscious.

Step 3: The AI decides to kill us all.

As science fiction, such stories can be great fun. As science fact, the narrative is suspect, especially around Step 2, which assumes that by synthesising intelligence, we will somehow automatically, or accidentally, create consciousness. I call this the consciousness fallacy.

It seems plausible at first, but the evidence doesn't support it. [Source]


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Bacteria have a memory, can consciously change direction, and can count chemical molecules. They are conscious.

Alex has disputed my assertion that bacteria are conscious. I'd like to disprove him with facts. First, a copy of my response:

A bacteria has enough awareness to manouevre towards survival. This is – as I indicated – a low level of consciousness. Consciousness is an innate quality of living things, being indistinguishable from life itself. Note that I disagree that consciousness is only “waking” consciousness. A creature able to regulate itself, to move in the direction of safety, is conscious.  We are conscious even when asleep. Our entire autonomous nervous system is busy collecting signals, processing, breaking down food, moving oxygen to cells, etc. etc. There is a control centre in each organism – which may or may not be “awake”.

Qualities of life such as self-replication, evolution, etc. are critical components of consciousness (which includes what we call the sub-conscious mind).

Consciousness is NOT about intelligence. It is a function of life itself. Therefore while robots/AI will definitely be more intelligent than humans, they won’t know what or who they are. Mere smart gadgets.

Now some proof.

How bacteria can change their direction of movement by changing their MIND:

How bacteria can COUNT the number of molecules (concentration) of a particular chemical:

A bacteria has a SHORT TERM MEMORY of around 4 seconds:

In general, this amounts to the organism DOING THINGS deliberately. This is a sign of life, of consciousness.


Chanced upon this. There is SOME merit in this talk, the key point that it supports what I've been thinking is that (a) consciousness/life operates at a quantum level [basically I don’t think mere atomic arrangements can explain it] and (b) independent bacteria have a quality that no robot/AI has. That is something not many AI/robotic scientists are pursuing. They should start by reproducing something like a living bacteria.


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Kurzweil is wrong. Robots will never have a WILL TO LIVE. Hence never will displace man.

Today we have outstanding voice recognition programs. They do not recognise the MEANING of the words, however. Even being fluent in syntax will never make it understand semantics.

We have outstanding facial recognition programs. They do not recognise the PERSON in the picture, only the superficial reconstruction of the facial features. A bunch of pixels is NOT a person.

We have a program that can drive a car. That program, however, does not know even WHAT it is doing, leave alone know what it is avoiding hitting on the road.

We have a program that can beat the world Jeopardy champion. The program doesn't know WHAT it is doing, or even what is jeopardy.

I came across the great debate between Ray Kurzweil and John Searle (this).

I think Searle wins hands down, but I'm not sure Searle has grasped (or articulated) the key point about consciousness. His full talk on consciousness – see the original youtube video condensed below – ignores the sub-conscious mind – when we are asleep.

But that's wrong. The real driver of the conscious mind is not "biological" (that's too general), it is a a natural property of LIFE.

Kurzweil is right that we will use computers and computing in the future to radically improve and augment ourselves, even to 'dump' our memories (possibly – although I doubt it), even to live forever – assuming our bodies are regularly updated.

But at NO time will computers become ALIVE. They will remain our servants (sometimes even dangerous servants – e.g. if programmed to autonomously shoot people down).

Consciousness is a unique quality of BIOLOGY. Even the smallest creature – a bacteria – has some form of consciousness. The form of consciousness changes as the biological grunt power available to a creature, improves. Our consciousness is different to that of a dog's or bacteria's but it is very clear that dogs are conscious. And cockroaches. And ants. And mites.

Consciousness is driven by the key property of life – a MOTIVATION or will to live.

That will, being a purely available to LIVING creatures (animals, to be precise), is designed to surmount obstacles to life. It has a MOTIVATION in everything it does. It also has many subsidiary motivations (e.g. will to reproduce – normally unconscious).

Biology is based on hardware but the hardware has FOUGHT ITS WAY THROUGH, to survive. Every second of the hardware's life is a battle against entropy. There are millions of processes at work each moment in a living creature that sustain it from moment to moment. And SOME of these lead to a conscious mind, where such a mind might add additional evolutionary value.

Indeed, 90 per cent of our will to live is UNCONSCIOUS. We don't know why our body lives, or wants to continue to live. Our heart beats without our conscious permission.

The reason why hardware and software CANNOT replicate consciousness is because consciousness – and meaning – is the essence of life. Meaning makes "sense" only in relation to LIFE. And in relation only to a living creature's capacity to survive in an environment evolution has prepared it to survive in.

No matter how smart computers become, they will NEVER become ALIVE. For that to happen, we'll need a separate process – to create life in the laboratory first. Since they will not have the will to live, nor a desire to be self-sustaining, or to reproduce, they will NEVER compete with humans.

Having said that, we WILL achieve most of the things that Kurzweil talks about in the next 25 years. The age of abundance is nearing, but we need not fear robots.

Our greatest enemy will remain the same as it has always been: MAN, including killer robots designed by man.

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Comparing the role of women in Arthashastra and Chanakya Niti

One way to determine whether Chanakya Niti is Chanakya's work is to determine his position on a particular issue, say the role of women, vs. the implications of Chanakya Niti.

From a quick comparison of the two, I would tend to believe that Chanakya Niti is NOT written by Chanakya.

This is what Rangarajan finds from the Arthashastra.

Reading the Arthashastra, the question that naturally comes to mind is: Did women of Kautilya’s times enjoy more rights than they do today? There can be no clear answer to this question because in some respects, like remarriage or right to property, women had a better position than what they came to have in the subsequent periods of Indian history. However, in terms of subservience and dependence, the principles and traditions were no different. In this summary, the verses relating to women have been collated under the following headings: women as begetters of sons, their right to property, standards of sexual morality as it affected them, their role in the labour force, their legal status in contracts and suits and, lastly, dependency and subservience.

The role of women is succinctly stated by Kautilya as: ‘The aim of taking a wife is to beget sons’ {3.2.42}. From this principle of perpetuating the family line through sons, others follow. ‘The frustration of a woman’s fertile period is a violation of a sacred duty’ {3.4.36}. ‘A wife shall not conceal her fertile period and a husband shall not fail in his duty to try to get a son during his wife’s fertile period’ {3.2.43,44}. If a wife was barren for eight years or if she had borne only daughters over a twelve-year period, the husband could take a second wife without paying compensation to the first or returning her dowry {3.2.38-40}. When a man had more than one wife, the earliest surviving wife or the one who had borne many sons was given priority {3.2.43-44}.

This preoccupation with bearing sons also gave women some rights. A girl, whose father was indifferent about her marriage for three years after her reaching puberty, could find herself a husband, even one from another varna {4.12.10}. Likewise, a father lost his rights if he prevented his daughter’s husband from approaching her for seven periods {4.12,8,9}. Among the reasons given for a wife’s right to refuse to have intercourse with her husband is that she had already borne him sons {3.2.45}. 

The principle of perpetuation of the husband’s family affected the rights of a widow to remarry; she could retain her husband’s property only if she married a man from the husband’s own family {3.2.20-30}. Similar restrictions applied to the remarriage of a wife whose husband had gone on a very long journey. The Kautilyan order of preference for niyoga (levirate) is: a brother of the husband, any sapinda (common ancestor within three generations) male, and lastly, the husband’s kula (the extended family) {3.4.37-41}. The custom of a wife bearing a kshetraja son, referred to earlier, is a further indication of the importance attached to having sons {3.6.24}.

Lastly, though nuns of both Brahmanical and non-Brahmanical orders are often mentioned, it was a crime to induce a woman to renounce her role as a wife {2.1.29}.

The principle is: ‘The purpose of giving women the right to own property is to afford protection in case of a calamity’ {3.2.34}. This, however, was a right restricted, on the whole, to maintenance. This is made clear in the order of inheritance specified in the text: sons, daughters, the father of the deceased, brothers and nephews; the widow is nowhere mentioned as an inheritor {3.5.10-12}. A widow did not inherit all the property of her husband; if there were no heirs, the king took the property leaving only the amounts needed for her maintenance {3.5.28}.
In general, a woman had control over her dowry and jewellery {3.2.14,15}. She retained this control after the death of her husband, so long as she did not remarry {3.2.19}. If she remarried without the consent of her father-in-law, her new husband was obliged to return all her property to the other family {3.2.23}. A remarrying widow was also obliged to leave her property, at the time of remarriage, to the sons by the first marriage {}. In short, property passed down the male line, except when there were only daughters.'

There are references to rich widows; one example is the case of an unjustly treated prince collecting money by plundering rich widows after gaining their confidence {1.18.9}. Secret agents posing as rich widows were used to sow dissension among the chiefs of an oligarchy {11.1.42} or to draw the enemy from the safety of his sort {13.2.42}.

The Arthashastra covers every aspect of sexual morality. Great emphasis is laid on virginity before marriage; there are also references to adultery, rape and abortion.

Not being a virgin at the time of marriage was an offence punishable by a fine of 54 panas; if the bride pretended to be a virgin (by smearing some other blood on the sheets during consummation), the fine was increased to 200 panas. Any man falsely accusing a girl of not being a virgin also had to pay a similar fine and, in addition, lost the right to marry her {4.12.15-19}. As a consequence of the emphasis on virginity for the girl, defloration, including defloration by a woman and auto-defloration, also became punishable offences {4.12.20-22}. Special provisions existed for the defloration of the daughters of slaves and courtesans {4.12.26,27}. It is interesting to note that the Arthashastra defines the age of puberty for girls as twelve, while for boys it is sixteen {3.3.1}.

Some types of sexual relations were prohibited. Incest, punishable by the mutilation of sexual organs and then death for the man, and only death for the woman, concerned a parental role: either the man as a father, as in incest with a daughter or daughter-in-law or the woman in a role similar to that of a mother, as in the cases of the teacher’s wife, a sister of the father or the mother, and the wife of the maternal uncles {4.13.30-31}. Other prohibited relations attracting punishments were: for men, with the queen, an unprotected Brahmin woman and a woman ascetic; for the woman, slaves and bonded males; and, for both, an Arya with a svapaka {4.13.32-35}.

Intercourse with a woman, other than through the vagina, was a punishable offence {4.13.40}. The only references to female homosexuality are defloration or rape; male homosexuality, on the other hand, was a punishable offence {4.13.40}. The implication is that male sexual activity was meant only for procreation.

Both husbands and wives were entitled to expect their spouses to fulfil their conjugal duties, the punishment for the husband being double that for the wife {3.3.2}. This may have been due to the fact that prostitution, a state-controlled revenue-enhancing activity, provided an alternative for men. In fact, a husband who falsely accused his wife of refusing to sleep with him was also punished {3.3.14}.

Adultery was treated as a serious crime, the punishment for the wife being the amputation of her nose and an ear {4.12.33}. However, if the adultery was committed when the husband was away on a long journey, the wife was kept under custody by the husband’s kinsmen till the husband’s return, when he had the option of forgiving both the wife and her lover {4.12.30-32}.

Different punishments are prescribed for the crime of rape, depending on the victim: 12 panas for raping a prostitute, 24 panas for each offender in a gang rape of a prostitute and 100 panas for raping a woman living by herself, the amputation of the middle and index figures for raping a girl who had attained puberty, the amputation of a hand if the girl had not attained puberty and death if the girl died as a result of the rape {3.20.16, 4.13.38, 4.12.1-7}. Among crimes against women, special punishments are prescribed for city guards who misbehave with women; these range from Lowest Standard Penalty if the woman was a slave, to death if the woman was a respectable person {2.36.41}.

Pregnancy carried with it some rights, mainly in the interests of protecting the child. Causing abortion was a serious crime, the punishment varying from the Lowest to the Highest Standard Penalty, depending on the means used {4.11.6}. Procuring the abortion of a female slave also carried a punishment of the Lowest Standard Penalty {3.20.17}. Women were not to be tortured during pregnancy or for a month after childbirth {4.8.17}. For a woman convicted of murder, the sentence of death by drowning was carried out a month after childbirth {4.11.18}. Pregnant women could use the ferries free of charge {2.28.18}.

Though the extent to which women were employed in the agricultural sector not clear from the text, it is likely that they also worked in the fields and pastures along with the men. A sector of employment reserved for women, particularly those who had no other means of livelihood, was spinning. The list given under the Chief Textile Commissioner includes: widows, crippled women, unmarried girls, women living independently, women working off fines, mothers of prostitutes, old women, servants of the King and temple dancers whose services to a temple had ceased {2.23.2}.

Special mention is made of women who did not stir out of their houses, for reasons of modesty (or inability?) The list includes: widows, handicapped women, unmarried girls and those whose husbands were away on a journey. Work was sent out to such women by the Chief Textile Commissioner, through his own maid servants. They could also come to the yarn shed, early in the morning, when there was little traffic about {}. When they came, the official was obliged to do only what was necessary to hand over the raw material, receive the yarn and pay the wages; he was neither to look at a woman’s face nor to engage in any conversation unrelated to work {2.23.14}.

Kautilya’s concern for protecting the modesty of women was balanced by his concern for ensuring control over the decentralized spinning sector, with the work being done at home unsupervised by an official. The prescribed punishment for cheating (taking the wages but not doing the work, misappropriating the raw material) was drastic—cutting off the thumb and forefinger {2.23.15}.

Women and children were also employed in collecting and preparating the ingredients for making alcoholic liquor {2.25.38}. They worked as attendants of the king and other nobles, their main occupations being shampooing, preparing the bath, making garlands and perfumery and carrying the regalia of office {1.21.13,2.27.4}.

That women were employed by the state for prostitution is obvious from the earlier discussion. There were other types of women entertainers, like actresses. The wives of actors and other entertainers were also to be used, under the cover of profession of their husbands, to detect, delude and murder the wicked {2.27.30}. The use of women to delude or entrap enemies, both internal and external, was quite extensive. Reference was made earlier to the wandering nun belonging to a category of roving spies {1.12.4-5}. ‘A woman of bad character’ is mentioned as one to be used in trapping a treacherous high official by making her pretend to be the queen {5.1.29}. Women were thus used for a variety of nefarious purposes ranging from tempting a prince unjustly treated to appear before his father, to sowing dissension among the chiefs of an oligarchy. The whole range of such activities of secret agents is given in Part IX of this translation.
The one area where women were protected by law was when they were bonded labour or slaves. A female bonded labourer was not to be beaten, treated violently, made to give a bath to a naked man or deprived of her virginity. If the maltreated woman was a nurse, a cook, a maid or an agricultural tenant, she was freed. A pledged nurse was not to be raped; a master should neither himself rape, nor let some one else rape, a virgin girl under his control. A woman labourer to whom a child of the master was born was entitled to leave the household {3.13.9-12}. A pregnant female slave was not to be sold or mortgaged without making adequate provision for her welfare during her pregnancy. Her pregnancy was not to be terminated by abortion. When a slave gave birth to a child of her master, both she and her child were no longer considered to be slaves {3.13.20,23,24}.

A contract made by a woman dependant on her husband or son was not valid; in this, the woman’s status was equated with that of other dependant people, such as slaves and bonded labour {3.1.12}. Though contracts had normally to be entered into in public, a contract for inheritance, marriage or deposits was valid, even if made inside a house, provided one of the parties was a woman who did not normally leave her house {3.1.7}.

For the purposes of the law of evidence, a woman was classed with those who could be called upon as witnesses only with respect to cases involving their own group; this did not apply to cases of theft, assault, adultery or secret transactions {3.11.29}. Women were also included in the class of persons whose problems were to be looked into by judges suo moto {3.20.22}.

Many aspects of the protection accorded to women were based on the inclusion of women in the list of people who needed the protection of the state because they were helpless and easily exploited. It is a debatable point whether women, as a segment of society, would have needed this protection, if society and the legal system had not placed them from the beginning in an inferior position.

The underlying principle in the Arthashastra is that a woman was always dependent on, under the control of and subservient to, her father, her husband or her son. In fact, in the chapter on title to property, women are included in the list of property, along with deposits and pledges {3.16.32}. A wife could not, without the permission of her husband, drink, indulge in unseemly sports or go on pleasure trips. She could not go to see performances, with other men or even with other women, either by day or at night. She could not leave the house when her husband was asleep or drunk; she could not refuse to open the door to him {3.3.20-24}. On the other hand, a wife had certain rights. The physical punishment which a husband could inflict on his wife was limited to three slaps {3.3.8}. She could run away from home if ill-treated {3.4.1}. She could not be prevented from visiting her own family on special occasions like death, illness or childbirth {3.4.13}. Some women, who customarily enjoyed freedom of movement, could travel with a man {3.4.22}. Widows or wives whose husbands had gone on long journeys could remarry, subject to specified conditions. Divorce was possible only in four of the eight forms of marriage {3.3.19}.

The overall picture is thus one of women being placed in a subservient role but given adequate protection to ensure that this did not lead to total exploitation. How well the safeguards operated in practice can only be a matter for conjecture. It is possible that gradual deterioration, over centuries, in the legal protection guaranteed to women in the Arthashastra, led to their being given a lower status in later codifications like the Manusmriti.


Vatavyadhi considers lust worse than addiction to drink. ‘For, many are the dangers arising from the foolishness of women, as has been explained in the section on the women of the palace. 1 Drink, on the other hand, gives pleasure to the senses, helps to show affection to others and is a way of honouring followers [by drinking with them]. It helps to relieve the fatigue caused by work.’ {8.3.55-57}

Kautilya disagrees. In having relations with women of the house, [there are] two advantages—begetting children and self-protection. If one lusts after outside women, or those with whom relationship is forbidden, then one loses these advantages. It is the same with drink. There are also [other adverse] effects of drink: loss of one’s senses, acting like a madman, loss of health to the extent of looking like a corpse even when alive, shamelessness in exposing oneself, separation from good people, association with harmful ones, [excessive] indulgence in music and singing, throwing away one’s wealth as well as loss of learning, intellect, strength and good friends. {8.3.58-61}

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