History and Future of Slavery

There were no slaves and slavery in ancient India. These English words have no direct, universally accepted equivalent in Sanskrit or other Indian languages.  Some people have attempted to equate the word ‘dasa’ as slaves.  However, the status and rights of ‘dasa’ in ancient India was no way comparable to the exploitative, barbaric treatment of slaves and inhuman status in which they lived.  The confusion of translating dasa as slave may be due to Shamasastry’s translation of dasa as slave.  However, Kangle corrects this by retaining the word ‘dasa’ or ‘karmakaara’ in his translations of Arthashastra. The Greek historian Arrian, who chronicled India about the time of Alexander the Great, wrote in his Indika, “The Indians do not even use aliens as slaves, much less a countryman of their own.” [Dasas of India are not slaves]

An undated newspaper advertisement offers a family of slaves for sale, highlighting their various skills. Slave families were not always sold together.
An undated newspaper advertisement offers a family of slaves for sale, highlighting their various skills. Slave families were not always sold together.

In ancient Rome, slaves performed many domestic services, and might be employed at highly skilled jobs and professions. Teachers, accountants, and physicians were often slaves.  Roman military expansion was a major source of slaves and slaves performed manual labor.  In Roman Empire, slaves were freed and this was referred to as manumission.  A freed slave was allowed to become Roman citizen. A freed slave enjoyed not only passive freedom from ownership, but active political freedom (libertas), including the right to vote, though he could not run for public office.  In Greek, Unskilled slaves, or those condemned to slavery as punishment, worked on farms, in mines, and at mills.  It was also possible that educated turning to be slaves.  Available documentation is primarily focused on Athens and Greek treatises on jurisprudence, arts, and plays relate slavery to artisans and as a source of revenue.

Jewish practices record the enslavement of men and women, mainly captured in war and alien people.  Women captured by Israelite armies could be adopted forcibly as wives, but first they had to have their heads shaved and undergo a period of mourning. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) However, “If you are not pleased with her, then you must let her go where she pleases. You cannot in any case sell her; you must not take advantage of her, since you have already humiliated her.” non-Israelite slaves shall serve forever

There was a continuity of practice of slavery from pre-Christian times throughout next 1500 years among Christian populations.  Slavery was in a variety of forms and each of them was an expression of brutal exploitation of one human being by another. Muslim populations in Saudi region continued, approved and adopted practices and philosophy of slavery in their framework.   Europeans who colonized Americas enslaved native populations extensively.  They also moved large populations of Africans to the Americas as slaves.  All denominations of Christianity endorsed slavery actively and there was almost no debate on the treatment of the slaves for hundreds of years.  The slaves were killed, raped, plundered, and tortured.  They were made to work in inhuman conditions, and were killed and abused for flimsy reasons in large numbers. Their families of slaves were broken, and burnt.  Individuals and groups of people were arbitrarily accused of heresy and tortured through methods of inquisition. [Europeans Devastated Non-Christian populations]

In Australia, and New Zealand, the land was colonized by Europeans. Non-Christian populations were devastated and enslaved.  Before the arrival of European settlers, each Maori group of New Zealand was considered itself a separate entity equivalent to a nation. There were conflicts between the groups and enslavement is assumed by the Western historians.  After the invasion of European settlers, the Maori groups were conquered, converted, and subjugated to slavery.   In Australia, until 1904, lakhs of men and boys from the South Pacific islands, and an unknown number of women and girls, were kidnaped and brought to Australia to work as slaves on the sugar plantations that still dot the country’s northeast coast. They were shackled, flogged with kangaroo hide whips and raped at will. There were thousands of deaths among enslaved populations.  White historians ignored to record the facts of the enslavement and 150 years later, few Australians are aware of this brutal period of their history.

Judaism accommodates slavery.    Numerous laws governing the ownership and treatment of slaves may be found in the Tanaka, the Talmud, the 12th century Mishneh Torah by noted rabbi Maimonides, and the 16th century Shulchan Aruch by rabbi Yosef Karo . The slavery laws of Tanaka have similarities with the 18th century BCE slavery laws of Hammurabi. In the modern era, when the abolitionist movement sought to outlaw slavery, supporters of slavery used the laws to provide religious justification for the practice of slavery.

The Bible contains several references to slavery, which was a common practice from antiquity. The Bible stipulates the treatment of slaves both in Old Testament and in the New Testament. Male slaves were, theoretically were allowed to be free after seven years of service. However, in practice there were methods to prevent such a release.  Female slaves are not freed in any way.  Exodus (Exodus 21:7-11) explicitly says, “If she does not please the man who bought her, he may allow her to be bought back again. But he is not allowed to sell her to foreigners.” Women were enslaved and sexual gratification from them is implied. Only when the woman slave is married by the master or son of the master, the slavery is ended. But, she continues to be in the same environment where she served as a slave [Slavery in Bible].

In Islam, the slavery is largely slavery of women that includes forced marriages, slavery for manual labor and more importantly sexual slavery.  Women and children are considered as war spoils. After the war victory, men of the enemy camp are killed and young children and women are shared among the Islamic army.  Islam permits sexual intercourse with virgin women immediately after the capture. If the captured woman is not a virgin, then Muslims have to wait till their womb is cleansed before they can have sexual intercourse.  There is no restriction to force sexual intercourse against the wishes of the woman as the captured woman is merely a property like cattle.  The woman can be sold, purchased, and gifted or freed. It is not correct, according to Islam, to interpret these actions as ‘not recommended’.  The wife cannot object a Muslim man to have sexual intercourse with his slave.  Such an objection is also considered as improper and against the scholarly opinion. [Slavery in Islam]

Thus, the slavery existed in populations associated with Europe, Colonized America, Australia, and New Zealand.  The slavery was approved by populations associated with Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  In the modern times, the dominant discussion in the Jewish and Christian world is supportive of banning slavery. However, a minority stream is still advocating continuing the slavery.  The dominant Islam advocated slavery of non-Muslim women and elimination of adult men without any hesitation.  Feeble voices among minority Muslims who are not politically not empowered are heard against slavery.  In the white worlds of Europe, America, Australia, and New Zealand, African populations, and Asian populations are discriminated systematically based on their skin color. Modern democratic institutions – executive, judiciary, and legislature as well as media systematically sustain the practices of discrimination rooted in slavery, often in subtler ways.

Officially, the slavery was abolished in a gradual manner.  In 1800s, European states abolished slavery and in 1900s, Muslim countries followed the suit.  UN abolished slavery globally in 1948 through Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It appears that those who committed the sins of slavery have just started atoning for the crimes.  However, suddenly they have become researchers of slavery, reformers against slavery and preachers to the world, which never practiced slavery.

The discussion of modern slavery is a distorted debate initiated by perpetrators of slavery.  They are trying to transfer the blame of their sins on to the gullible populations who are either victims or ignorant of the slavery problem.  The age-old sacred institution of traditional marriage of India is slowly being included in the categories of ‘modern slavery’.  Low wage employments are being interpreted as modern slavery. In addition, India is suddenly appearing on the top of the modern slavery list.  A nascent NGO with the blessings of prominent American politicians such as Hillary Clinton.  The head of the Catholic Church – The Pope – organizes a meet of representatives of religions and Dharmic traditions and cultures endorsing the modern day slavery report.

Hindus are set to receive the sins of the world once again and emancipate the world of slavery.

Objectives of a Samskrita University

The course of history was changed for India, when British government stopped government funding for Samskrita based traditional education and initiated European education introducing modern science, history and English language.   The decision intended to strengthen the eco-system and sustain the rule of British over India was well thought out and was systematically rolled out.  Today, even after 65 years of departure of British from India, support for English education is growing among Indians.

There is one more subtle effect of replacing the Indian system of education by the European education, often missed from analysis.  That is the way Samskrita is learnt by Indians.  Today, the teaching methodology adopted in universities to teach Samskrita is different approach compared to the traditional learning method.  Samskrita scholars coming out of these two institutions have differences.  The capabilities acquired by scholars from traditional, and official frameworks are same.  It is not uncommon to see their approach and behavior being incompatible with each other.  A systematic study between the differences in the two approaches and consequences thereof are to be taken up and corrective actions are to be taken as early as possible.  Because the study of Samskrita is aimed at preserving the treasure of our heritage and guide the world.

The Samskrita education was weakened by British by diverting funds to European education that taught modern science, history and English. The education system present today is continuation of the system introduced by British and sustained by us in the independent India.  The decision of British to change the education system was to strengthen an eco-system favorable to the British Empire and to sustain the rule of British over India.  Post-independence, we believe that the same system can be used to correct and consolidate an eco-system favorable to India.

Primarily, the university is responsible for creating a framework for imparting knowledge and training, certification, and human resource management in the domain of Samskrita.  Samskrita education should start at an early age in schools and continue throughout the schooling period.  For those who have missed formal opportunities, alternate routes of learning have to be provided by the university in collaboration with contributors in social sector.  These alternate routes could be in the form of evening classes, short-term courses, distance learning, and specialized full time and part time courses.

Today, Indians are accessing Samskrita through English.  This is because, the education system introduces English systematically and the newer generation is less familiar with Indian languages, especially the Samskrita.  The contents of Vedas, Smrithis, Puraanas are not accessed directly.  Without English, it is almost impossible to have a fair understanding of our heritage.  Universities have a significant role in creating an atmosphere where the contents of Samskrita would be accessed through Samskrita.

Samskrita University can also lead in providing content from Samskrita to other languages.  At any given point of time, there should be authoritative scholars who are well versed in Vedas, Smrithis, Puraanas, Itihaasa, Dracaenas, and Matas.  Universities should provide an institutional support, may be in the form of professors, to reorganize and present the contents to the general public in a systematic way.

A new class of Samskrita scholars rooted in the Samskrita tradition is needed to generate Samskrita content equivalent of modern science, technology and other advances.  Is it not possible to understand bible or Quran through Samskrita if Upanishads are understood through English?  Of course, care is to be taken while undertaking such a project. Probably, it would be prudent to wait little more time and take several other steps before planning these aspects.

India is facing language problem.  There is no national language for India.  There are confusions in rolling out a policy identifying the role of Indian languages, foreign languages, English and Samskrita.  The confusions around language of instruction, link languages, official languages of the states, minority languages, and international languages may be clarified if Samskrita comes to prominence.

Immediately after independence, centers of excellence related to Samskrita were shut and there was a severe disruption in the eco-system and affected lives of Samskrita scholars.  Alternate systems have been built but the rigor and the quality of rote learning is missing leading to logical consequences.  Traditional social institutions are striving to sustain traditional framework facing additional hurdles associated with unofficial status and difficulty of resource mobilization.  The need to integrate Samskrita learning systems is not felt and compartmentalized approach has set in even in ideation.

Veda was preserved from time immemorial – traditional Vedic schools have played a significant role in preserving the Vedas to the present generation.  Even an ardent opponent of Vedic tradition would agree to the antiquity of Vedas and need to preserve it.  There are Vedic teachers throughout India in nook and corners of the country facilitating rote learning of Vedas in a structured way. There is need to provide institutional support to them immediately. Samskrita University could take leadership in resolving the confusions preventing extension of government support to traditional Vedic schools without distorting them.