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Freeing Prisoners On Special Occasions In Ancient India

Bandhana Vimukti is a technical term in the Arthashastra of Kautilya and it literally means freedom from captivity or freedom from prison (jail) on special occasions in ancient India. During Vedic times and during the period of the Mauryan ruler (3 BCE), various kinds of punishments were meted out to the perpetrators of crime against society. Kautilya in his Arthashastra (4, 8-17) prescribes the nature of punishment for criminals depending upon the gravity of the crime, the person committing the crime and the circumstances under which the crime was committed. In addition to this, he mentions certain auspicious and other important occasions when such prisoners are to be set free – in commemoration of occasions such as victory over an enemy, anointing of a prince, birth of an heir apparent to the king, conquest of an arch enemy, etc.

Further, he recommends release of child prisoners, women, the old and ailing and prisoners with physical deformities, on the birth of a king or queen, auspicious constellations, full moon, etc. Prisoners displaying good behavior and conduct are to be released on giving an undertaking hat they will continue to be so in the future but they have to be observed with a keen eye for a certain length of time. Inscriptions of Emperor Ashoka refer to the release of prisoners on the occasion of the anniversary of the of the birth of Ashoka himself.

Kautilya suggests that the jail superintendent should observe the conduct of the prisoners in captivity and decide their release. The intention of Kautilya seems to be that a good man who has committed a crime inadvertently should not suffer long in captivity.

The punishments prescribed fall under three categories – fines, physical pain and hard labor. The objective of state policy in ancient India seems to have been that the guilty should not be allowed to go scot-free and punishment should succeed in reforming the criminal.