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Atatayin – Tyrant – Rules Regarding Killing A Cruel Oppressor

Atatayin is a Sanskrit word meaning a cruel oppressor or a tyrant. Vasishtasmriti (3.17-19) recognizes six wicked deeds of an atatayin. He may be an incendiary, prisoner, offender armed with weapon, robber, possessor of another’s field or land by seizing it forcibly or one who carries away another’s wife. Thus the atatayin is a tyrant who harms individuals, the society or the nation.

Ravana, Jarasandha, Kamsa, Duryodhana etc., were powerful tyrants of the past. The Hindu scriptures including Ramayana, the Mahabharata and Dharmasutras, clearly recognized the right of private defense and protection of life and property against such tyrants. They ordain to kill them if it is impossible to make them desist from wickedness.

Manusmriti (VIII 349-351) states that one who kills an atatayin according to dharma commits no sin and an atatayin should be killed immediately without discrimination even if he is a guru or a young brahmin.

Vasishta Smriti (III 20-21) states that there is no sin in killing an atatayin even if he is a learned Vedantin or from a family of Vedic scholars.

Baudhayana Dharmasutra (II. 2-80) and Mitakshara (on Yajnavalkya Smriti II 21 and 286) agree that to counter tyrants, all should take up arms. Mitakshara is explicit that everyone has a right to oppose and kill another in the defense of self, women or other weak people, and in such defense, one is not to be punished even if a brahmin is killed.