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Article: From Liberalism to Restrictions: The Evolution of the Indian Civilization

From Liberalism to Restrictions: The Evolution of the Indian Civilization

From Liberalism to Restrictions: The Evolution of the Indian Civilization


The Indian civilization has a rich and diverse history that spans thousands of years. From the ancient Indus Valley civilization to the Mauryan and Gupta empires, India witnessed remarkable progress in various fields, including philosophy, science, arts, and governance. However, throughout its history, the Indian civilization has experienced shifts in its societal norms, transitioning from a liberal and open community to normalizing practices such as the caste system, purdah, female infanticide, sati, child marriage, and the tragic act of johar. This article aims to explore the factors that contributed to these shifts, highlighting the influence of external forces and cultural assimilation.

The Caste System: An Aberration from Religious Principles

One of the most persistent and pervasive social systems in Indian history is the caste system. It is crucial to understand that the caste system emerged from the misinterpretation and misuse of religious texts, particularly the Manusmriti, which provided a hierarchical framework based on occupation and birth. However, it is essential to note that the caste system itself has little to do with the core religious values and principles of Hinduism. Hindu scriptures, such as the Bhagavad Gita, emphasize the importance of individual qualities and actions, rather than birth, as a determinant of a person's worth.

The caste system evolved over time, with the original intention of facilitating the division of labor in society. Unfortunately, it gradually deviated from its initial purpose and became a tool for discrimination and social exclusion. High caste individuals exploited their privileged positions, denying basic rights and opportunities to those in lower castes. This exploitation based on status is comparable to the distinctions between Nobles and Peasants seen in other civilizations, but it reached extreme levels in India due to the rigidity and hereditary nature of the caste system.

Recognition and Resistance: A Multifaceted Narrative

Despite the challenges posed by the caste system and the conservative practices that emerged due to cultural assimilation, there were always individuals and movements that challenged these norms and fought for justice and equality. The epic Mahabharata, for instance, sheds light on the issue of caste-based discrimination through the character of Karna. Despite facing immense unfairness and discrimination, Karna's talents and resilience were acknowledged by those who recognized his true worth. This narrative within ancient Indian texts suggests that even in the midst of social injustice, there were voices calling for change and equality.


Female Infanticide, Sati, Parda, and Child Marriage: Traces of Cultural Assimilation

In the course of Indian history, the Indian civilization encountered numerous external invasions, most notably by Islamic and British forces. These invasions led to the mixing of cultures and the subsequent adoption of certain practices that were more orthodox and less liberal toward women. Prior to these invasions, women in ancient India enjoyed significant freedom and were considered equal to men. They participated in various social, cultural, and religious activities, and their voices held influence.

With the arrival of Islamic invaders, however, a shift occurred. The conquerors brought with them their own customs and practices, which clashed with the existing liberal ethos of the Indian civilization. The purdah system, which emphasizes the seclusion and veiling of women, was one such practice that gained prominence. This marked a departure from the earlier Indian tradition of women actively participating in public life.

Similarly, the practice of child marriage gained traction as a response to the uncertain times brought about by foreign invasions. Families sought to protect their daughters by marrying them off at a young age, under the belief that this would ensure their safety and honor. The amalgamation of Islamic and indigenous customs led to the rise of regressive practices such as sati (self-immolation by widows), where women were compelled to sacrifice themselves on their husband's funeral pyre. It is important to note that sati was not widely practiced throughout Indian history and was more prevalent in certain regions and communities.


The Act of Johar: A Tragic Choice Amidst Invasion

The act of johar, performed by Hindu women in the face of foreign invasions, is a stark illustration of the extreme measures taken to avoid rape and exploitation. Johar involved mass self-immolation by women to escape capture and subjugation at the hands of the invaders. The act, although tragic, was seen as a way for women to retain their honor and dignity. It must be emphasized that johar was a response born out of desperation rather than an inherent cultural practice.


The Condition of Women in Ancient India

In ancient India, women enjoyed a level of freedom and equality that is often overlooked in contemporary discussions. Interestingly, historical evidence indicates that women in ancient India dressed in a manner that allowed them to have an uncovered upper body, similar to men. This practice of dressing without upper body coverings for women highlights the progressive outlook towards gender equality that existed in those times.

In stark contrast to the restrictive practices that emerged later due to cultural assimilation, ancient Indian society recognized and revered women as goddesses and held them in high regard. As equal participants in various social and religious activities, women were considered essential pillars of the community. Exploitation or harm done to women was seen as not just an injustice to them individually but also as an affront to the entire community.

The transition towards a more conservative approach to women's attire and social roles happened over time, influenced by external forces, cultural mixing, and societal changes. Nevertheless, it is essential to remember and celebrate the historical legacy of gender equality that once thrived in ancient India, as it serves as a reminder of the society's inherent capacity for progress and inclusion. Recognizing and understanding these historical aspects can help us appreciate the journey of the Indian civilization while working towards a more equitable and just future.


The Indian civilization's transition from being a liberal and open community to normalizing restrictive practices was a complex process influenced by various historical, cultural, and external factors. The caste system emerged from the misinterpretation of religious texts and the subsequent misuse of their teachings. Practices such as purdah, female infanticide, sati, and child marriage were adopted as a response to cultural assimilation during invasions by Islamic and British forces. The act of johar, while tragic, highlights the extreme measures taken to avoid exploitation and preserve dignity in times of invasion. It is crucial to recognize that these practices are not representative of the core principles of Indian civilization but rather deviations that emerged under specific historical circumstances. India's journey toward social progress has involved recognizing these deviations, reclaiming its liberal heritage, and working towards a more inclusive and egalitarian society.

By Manshi Singh
(The images used in this blog post are not owned by Anime Devta, they are just to help the readers)

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