Was oppression of weaker section so terrible? Yes, it was. But not half as terrible as the oppression meted out by Rome and Greece to their peoples, or by Christianity and Islam to humanity.
But it was by no means without parallel in world history as is being made out now by some politicians. But do these worthies know anything of world history? They do not. Let me recount. But on this later.
The ancient world was violent. It was being tamed by ethics. Buddha was the first to do so in India, Socrates in Greece, Zoroaster in Persia, Confucius in China and Jesus Christ in the Middle East. Till then it was violence that ruled the world. Might prevailed.
The question is not whether these societies were brutal, but who was more brutal? Who was more humane?
A.L. Basham, author of ?The Wonder That Was India,? did try to answer this question. He writes: ?…the lot of the humble (in India) was generally hard. Yet our overall impression is that in no other part of the ancient world were the relations of man and man and of man and the state, so fair and humane. In no other early civilisations were slaves so few in number, and in no other ancient law book are their rights so well protected as in Arthashastra. No other ancient law-giver proclaimed such noble ideals of fair-play in battle as did Manu…To us, the most striking feature of ancient Indian civilisation is its humanity.? It is this humanity that gave birth to tolerance?a unique feature of the Hindu civilisation.
More need not be added to this judgement. It says all. And yet let us have a look at the history of other peoples, of other civilisations.
Do you know that the Semitic faiths divided men into two hostile camps?that of children of God and children of the Devil? The concept of a human family, of a human brotherhood, is foreign to all Semitic faiths.
According to Seignobos, author of History of Ancient and Modern Civilisations, Europeans did not have the intellectual preparation for the assimilation of such a highly ethical religion as Christianity. Which Christianity? The Christianity of Jesus, not of the church.
He goes on: ?They may baptise their children, they may take the sacrament, they may flock to the church. All this they may do, and yet be as far removed from the spirit of Christianity as when they bent their knee before their idols.? The point is: Roman Christianity carried the congenital weakness of the Roman civilisation, namely its tradition of violence.
Only against this background can we explain the association of Christianity with the most terrible episodes of history. For example, its support to the African slave trade, the genocide of the Red Indians, the burning of apostates, atrocities in colonies and the holocaust. The entire Christian world is a legatee of this tradition of violence, more so the West.
Roman cruelty is thus without parallel. The Romans razed Carthage, the richest city in the world, to the ground, massacred the entire population, threw salt on the ruins and ploughed back the country to the desert it was. Why? All because Carthage had emerged as a commercial rival of Rome!
Seneca, the orator, writes that even for very small mistakes on the part of servants, ?we often strike too hard and shatter a limb or break a tooth.? Domestic servants were thrown into fish ponds as ?food for the lampreys?. Others were thrown into dungeons where they rotted away. Slaves were tied to the galleys by iron chains and whipped till they died.
The brutal instincts of the Romans were displayed in their utmost hideousness in the bloody games of the amphitheatre, where the gladiators fought fierce animals and other gladiators.
Greeks were racists like the Romans. Alexander expected his subjects to prostrate before him. The social status of a person in Greece was judged by wealth. Before Socrates, the Greeks were more often sanguinary, violent, deceitful, jealous, vindictive and dissolute.
Draper admits in Intellectual Development of Europe, ?Upon the whole, then, we must admit that Greek mythologies indicate a barbarous social condition.? The idea of law was foreign to Homer, the epic writer. And where there was no law, there was no justice.
Millions have perished during invasions and conversions. Whole cities were razed to the ground and their population massacred. Such was the case with Vijayanagar, the most illustrious city in the world.
The invaders used to carry tens of thousands of captives to be sold in Central Asia. Timur ordered the massacre of a hundred thousand captives he was carrying from India when he ran short of food!
Islam reduced man to a plaything. He was no more free. The Quran says: ?It is not for any believer, man or woman, to have any choice in the affair when God and his messenger have decreed in the matter.? Yes, man has no choice in Islam. But the person belonging to the weaker section of the Hindu society was a free man even in the caste system. And he was living in a society less prone to brutality. It was more humane.