Justice T.U.Mehta

Social Conditions

Social conditions in the time of Mahavira were more ripe for the change. India has always been a stinkingly casteridden society, which, in those days was dominated by a priestly order, which was socially and economically interested in tightening its hold on the social and political structure through the monopoly of its knowledge of sacrificial rituals. Birth, and not the profession or merits, was the criterion to decide the caste complexion. Knowledge of scriptures was not open to Sudras, the lower castes. Untouchables were social out-castes and their condition was full of miseries. Even their sight was considered inauspicious. Inequality was the rule of the day. Women, who had equal status with men in earlier centuries, were treated more or less as personal property of their husbands. To have more than one wife was considered prestigious by the rich. There were special and more favourable laws for Brahmins. The system of slavery had taken roots. Human slaves were sold, purchased and gifted. Defeated king's family and subjects were taken in booty as slaves. Princes were fighting amongst themselves for trivial causes and mostly for expansion of their territories even though some of them were related to each other by blood. Human happiness in this and the other world was dependent on the favours of gods who could be pleased only be sacrificial rituals. Various types of animals and sometimes even human beings were sacrificed to please gods. These sacrificial rituals were to be performed only in the prescribed manner and through particular class of Brahmins who had specialized in the subject. These Brahmins were gifted with land and cows for the sacrificial services rendered by them. This class was thus interested in perpetuating these rituals. Samskrta was the language of the elite. Scriptures were written and preached in Samskrta, which was not spoken or understood by common man. Sudras were not allowed to learn or speak Samskrta.