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Report No. 35

K. Maratha period Impaling and Trampling under Feet by Elephants

Various punishments in Maratha period-Smritis followed in Nepal.-As to the Maratha period, Jolly has observed1:-

"Of the death sentences, impaling, which is mentioned also in the Mah., Rajatar, and in the literature of fables, was in vogue for instance in Golconda even in the 17th Century, in Kolhapur until the period of British rule2, and the trampling down by elephants mentioned also in Mriccha, 146 and the Jatakas (Fausboll) 1, 199 ff., was universally practised in .the Mahratta states3.

Moreover under Mahratta rule, specially in Central India, the following are said to have been the customary punishments: fines, flogging, imprisonment, putting in stocks, forfeiture and sale of the whole property, amputation of hands, fingers or nose and other corporal punishments; the hands of a forger of base coins were crushed with one blow of the hammer which is apparently a symbolical punishment4.

Fines were particularly in vogue in Rajputana according to Tod5, in Mysore according to Dubois6 and in Kolhapur according to the Gazetteer; among the Prayascittas fines still play the chief role, of. Article 37. In Nepal, besides the very frequent fines, sometimes amounting to the confiscation of the whole property, banishment and detracting punishment such as the shaving of the hair (Article 42) as well as the horrible mutilation and death-sentences of the Smritis are still in vogue."

The position in Mahratta times was as follows7:-

"For great crimes, the Sursoobedars had the power of punishing capitally; Mamlitdars in such cases required the Peishwa's authority. The great Jagherdars had power of life and death within their respective territories. Bramins could not be executed; but state prisoners were poisoned, or destroyed by deleterious food, such as equal parts of flour and salt. Women were mutilated, but rarely put to death. There was no prescribed form of trial; torture to extort confession was very common; and confession was generally thought necessary to capital punishment.

The chief authority, in doubtful cases, commonly took the opinion of his officers; and some Mamlitdars in the Satara country, under both the Pritee Needhee and Peishwa, employed Punchayets to pronounce on the innocence or guilt of the accused; but this system can only be traced to the time of Shao; and though so well worthy of imitation was by no means general, nor are its benefits understood or appreciated in the present day."

An interesting incident may be referred to in this connection8. Soon after the death of Madhavrao I, it was suspected that Ragunathrao was privy to the murder, and he asked Ram Sastri (the celebrated Chief Justice of Poona) what was the penalty for the act. Ram Shastri not only declared that capital punishment was the only penalty for the offence, but declined to serve any longer under a Peshwa who had murdered his own nephew. This was roundabout the year 1774. Later on, in 1779, he was induced to return to Poona to resume his work, with an annual salary of Rs. 2,000 and an allowance of Rs. 1,000 for his palankeen.

Dr. Coates, Residency Surgeon in Poona, contributed in 1819, some valuable notes on the administration of justice in Poona td the Bombay Literary Society, quoted below9:-

"The criminal court was composed of a Brahmin president, some Brahmin clerks, and a shastri. Its mode of proceeding, if the accused were professed thieves or old offenders, was summary, and had something of a sanguinary character. It was always essential to conviction that the offender should confess his guilt, and the investigation turned much on this. The facts and evidence were all taken down in writing by karkuna (clerks), and persuasion and threats were used from time to time to obtain confession. If this failed, and when from the evidence recorded there appeared little doubt of the fault of the accused, torture was employed and he was flogged, and chilli bag was put to his nose, etc.

If he persevered in his declaration of innocence, he was sent back to prison, put in the stocks, and allowed only a very scanty subsistence; and after an interval was brought forward again and again to try to get him to confess. This refers chiefly to Ramoosis, Mangs, and persons of bad character. In other cases the proceedings were conducted with more deliberation and forbearance; and there were probably few instances where those-entirely innocent were made to suffer. Persons accused of robbery and theft were readily admitted to bail, if the bondsman made himself responsible for the lost property in cases of conviction.

Murder was not bailable, unless a compromise was made with the friends of the deceased. The accused might summon what evidence they pleased, but were not allowed to have any intercourse with them. When the offender had been convicted on his own confession, the president, the shastri, and the Brahmins of the court, in ordinary cases, awarded the sentence; and in intricate cases this was done by a body of learned shastris, sometimes in the presence of the Peshwa. No severe punishment was inflicted till the case had been submitted to the Peshwa for his approval.

Brahmins, of course, whatever their crimes, were never put to death, or subjected to any punishment considered ignominious. For small crimes they were often merely reproved, ordered to dispense charities, and perform religious penances; or were subjected to slight fines, imprisonment, or flogging; those of a deeper die were heavily fined, or confined in hill forts, sometimes in irons, where the climate and their scanty and unwholesome food commonly soon put an end to them; and their property was sequestrated, and their sins visited on the children.

Gangs committing murder, highway robbery, and house-breaking, were punished by death, and their bodies hung up on the sides of roads: other professed incorrigible thieves were punished, according to the extent of their crimes, by the cutting off of a finger, or hand, or foot, or both, and left to their fate. Perjury was punished by the perjurer being made to make good the loss that depended on his false oath, and paying a fine to Government.

Forgery, by the Hindu Law, ought to have been punished by the cutting off of the right hand; but this, like almost every crime at Poona, was commutable for money. Women were never punished by death for any crime. Turning them out of their castes, parading them on an ass with their heads shaved, cutting off their noses, etc., were the usual punishments."

1. Jolly Hindu Law and Custom, (1928), p. 283, et seq.

2. B.G. 24 (267).

3. I.c.

4. Grant, C.P. Gazetteer 70 f.; Malcolm A Memoir of Central India, 2nd Edn., I, 558.

5. Annals of Rajasthan, 1, 142 f.

6. People of India, 499 f.

7. James Grant Duff History of the Mahrathas, (1912), Vol. 2, pp. 236-237.

8. See D.B. Parasnis, Note in Appendix II, Kincaid and Parasnis A History of the Maratha People, (1931), pp. 475-476.

9. D.B. Parasnis, Note in Appendix II, Kincaid and Parasnis A History of the Maratha People, (1931), p. 476.

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