Protection of women in India and private property as the main obligations of civil authority is referred to in the Mahabharata which says that when people resolved to set up a civil society, an important point of agreement was that they should abandon the person who encroaches on another’s property and violates the chastity of another’s wife.
The views in ancient Hindu law books and the Puranas on extra-marital sexual relations is quite strict. So much so that in the case of adultery, the man’s penis and testicles were to be cut off and in the case of evil doings with a maiden, the man’s property was to be confiscated. The Mahanirvan Tantra (xi, 53) enjoins that if a man comes upon his wife in another man’s arms and kills both, then the king must not punish him. The prevalence of this tradition is vouchsafed by an incident from Rajput history related by James Tod (James Tod, Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan). Prince Gopinath of Bundi went in the night to a Brahmin’s wife. The husband saw him and bound him, went to the sinner’s royal father and announced that he had taken a thief who had stolen his honour. He asked the father what the man deserved. “Death” was the spontaneous reply, whereupon the injured man hurried home, beat in the prince’s head with a hammer and threw him into the street. The king, on coming to know his son’s fate, remained silent.
The Brahmaivarta Purana, a work of the early medieval period, states that virtuous men never interfere with the wives or property of others, the source of all trouble (Krishnarjuna Kanda). A latter work of the 11th century, namely, Agni Purana, reiterates the same view on the adultery. The Garuda Purana enjoins that on no account should one use another’s property or take another’s wife (Garuda Purana).
Thus, we find universal condemnation of the man who covets the wife and property of others. The Garuda Purana also states that adultery is inequities which may force even Indra to go abegging (Garuda Purana). Another reference in the Agni Purana states that adultery should be regarded as a characteristic of those who are released from hell.
It is thus clear that social condemnation of adultery was further backed by religious sanction as well as expiation through punishment of the guilty people. The offence of wrongful possession of another woman could be atoned by performing Candrayana Vrata (Agni Purana). So much so, that even thoughts of another’s wife was a sin which could be expiated by prayer (Agni Purana). Coveting another’s wife could be expiated by reading or hearing the Puranas (Markandeya). There is also a reference of a person violating the chastity of another’s wife being condemned to Vaitrani (hell) (Garuda Purana, Uttar Kanda).
Infidelity on the part of men as well as women in India has always been subject to control by social and legal sanctions.