A severe atonement was ordained for the man who attempted suicide. The relations of a suicide were prohibited from performing funeral rites for him. Such was the criminal law of the Hindus over two thousand years ago.
The more complicated subject of civil law could be categorized under five heads, the law of agriculture and pasture, the law of property, usury laws, the law of inheritance, and the law of partition. The law of agri¬culture and pasture was according to Apastamba. Hence if a person took a lease of land does not exert himself, due to which the land did not bear any crop, and if he is rich, then he was liable to pay the value of the crop that ought to have been grown. A servant in tillage who abandons his work was to be flogged. Further, the same punishment shall be awarded to a herdsman who leaves his work.
Property came to be divided into eight classes namely, Property inherited from a father, a thing bought, a pledge, property given to a wife after marriage by her husband's family, a gift, property obtained for performing a sacrifice, the property of reunited copartners, and wages as the eighth.
The next were the usury laws of Ancient India. According to Vasishtha and Gautama, the interest for a money-lender was five mashas for twenty (karshapanas) every month. The commentator Hara Datta reckoned 20 mashas to the karshapana, so that the rate of interest comes to 1% per cent, per month, or fifteen per cent, per annum. Krishna Pandita correctly stated that this rate of interest applies to loans for which security is given.
Gautama also held that after the principal has been doubled, interest ceases. And when the object pledged is an object used by the creditor, the money lent bears no interest at all. Other articles could have been lent at a much higher percentage of interest, apparently when no security was given. Gautama listed six different forms of interest, compound, periodical, stipulated, corporal, and daily, in addition to the use of a pledge. He also laid down the rule that the heirs shall pay the debts of the dead. However, money due by a surety, a commercial debt, a fee due to the parents of the bride, immoral debts, and fines shall not devolve on the sons of the debtor.
The next was the most important portion of the civil law, the law of inheritance. To leave male issue was considered as a religious duty by the ancient Hindus. Also, in the older law-books several kinds of sons are recognized, some of whom were legitimate or quasi-legitimate, and might therefore inherit. Apart from these, others were considered unlawful and were debarred from all rights to their fathers' estates.
Lastly was the subject of the law of partition. The law of primogeniture never obtained in India. But so long as the joint family system remained in vogue, the property of the father was inherited by the eldest son. The eldest son supported the rest as a father. It would seem, however, that to live in a joint family under the eldest brother was never the universal custom in India.
Even Gautama, the earliest of the Sutrakaras whose works are extant, considers a partition among brothers preferable. According to Gautama, the eldest son got as an additional share a twentieth part of the estate, some animals, and a carriage. As compared to this, the middlemost son received some poor animals. While the youngest obtained sheep, grain, utensils, a house, a cart, and some animals. Besides this, the remaining property was divided equally.
As an alternative, he allowed the eldest two shares, and the remaining sons one share each; or he would permit each to take one kind of property by choice, according to seniority; or the special shares might be adjusted according to their mothers. Vasishtha permitted the eldest brother to take a double share and a little of the kine and horses; he allowed the youngest to take the goats, sheep, and house; while the middlemost received utensils and furniture.
If a Brahman had sons by Brahman, Kshatriya, and Vaisya wives, the first obtained three shares, the second two, and the third one. Baudhayana allowed all the children to receive equal shares, or the eldest son might take one-tenth more than his brothers. Where there were sons born of wives of different castes, the sons were to receive four, three, two, and one shares respectively. This depended on the order of the castes.