Slavery in Ancient India - 5 Distrubing Facts

Slavery in Ancient India

In this article I talk about 5 disturbing facts about slavery in Ancient India. By ancient India I refer to the Mauryan period (~300 B.C.E. to ~200 B.C.E).

Kautilya's Arthashastra (Chapter 13, Book III, "Rules regarding slaves and laborers") provides a lot of information about the nature and extent of slavery during the Mauryan Period.

The most important aspect was that slavery during the Mauryan period was not a social practice but rather an economic practice of temporal nature akin to a financial trade. That is one could be a slave for 6 months or say 5 years etc as part of a financial transaction.

Slavery in ancient India for life was seen only exceptional cases. Thus slavery was prevalent but subjected to strict humanitarian rules.

  1. Slaves retained control over their money, property and right to compensation. Violation by the masters of these rules was a punishable offense.
  2. Slaves worked in households and were responsibility of their masters
  3. Slave girls were the responsibility of their masters, and if they were raped by their masters, they had to be adequately compensated.
  4. If a slave girl had a child from her master (willing or forced), both she and her child were set free immediately and compensated.
  5. Slaves were considered to be part of a family and forced labor was strictly prohibited.

Slavery in fact would be an incorrect word for this practice, which is actually more of a bonded labor. Whether bonded labor is ethical, or not is a separate matter altogether, and beyond the scope of this article.

The inhuman heinous practice of actual slavery in India (similar to that in US, Islamic nations, British and other European colonies) started with the advent of Islamic rule and their inhuman and deplorable slave trade system in India from ~1000 C.E and onwards. But that is for another day.

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That's it. Thank you for reading. Do let me know your thoughts on slavery in ancient India versus inhuman slavery in US, Europe and middle-east.

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