Read or not, Manusmriti is influential!
Read or not read, Manusmriti should have no place anywhere except research institutions. So, there should be no hesitation in banning its publication and distribution
Two women belonging to the Dalit Community, Kantabai Ahire and Sheela Pawar blackened the statue of Manu (the author of Manusmriti) standing in the Rajasthan High court campus in June. They demanded the statue be pulled down.
Five months later, Manu and his contentious book are again in public discourse, this time primarily because of a Twitter post last month demanding a ban on Manusmriti for “demeaning women, the backward castes and indigenous groups, and spread hatred against them”. The tweet was by Thol Thirumavalavan, president of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK).
Tamil Nadu BJP took to the streets and demanded an apology. The BJP leader leading the protests also said that there is “not a single word that demeans women” when asked whether she had read the text or not.
The BJP leader at the centre of these protests Kushboo Sundar, was herself at the centre of attacks by Hindutva groups after she defended pre-marital sex almost a decade ago. She does not seem to know that Manusmritispeaks strongly against pre-marital sex and prescribes “shaving the head” of the woman, cutting off two of her fingers and made to ride on a donkey as a shaming exercise.
Apologists of Manusmriti argue that no one reads Manusmriti these days, that the book is unlikely to be found in any home; that it was never implemented in word and spirit and so on. What they clearly miss is that the ‘wisdom’ of Manusmriti remain alive in popular ‘sayings’, ‘proverbs’, ‘folklores’, ‘abuses’ and in accepted attitude towards women. What is even more important is the absurdity of defending a book that apparently nobody reads or putting up the statue of the author whose views are shocking and regressive.
Six years ago, Yogi Adityanath, then a Member of Parliament and now the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, wrote an article on his website on the role of women in Indian culture. He famously wrote that women could not be left free. He was echoing what had been prescribed in Manusmriti, which held the following:
5.148. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.
…9.2. Day and night woman must be kept in dependence by the males (of) their (families), and, if they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one’s control.
9.3. Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence .
In the Hindi heartland one often hears men wistfully say, “Ladki Hath se Nikal gayi” (the woman has slipped out of one’s sphere of influence). The insensitivity was reflected in an equally outrageous statement by yet another chief minister of a BJP-ruled state who was quoted as saying, “If girls want freedom, why don’t they just roam around naked?”.
Manusmriti surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, sanctioned character assassination of women and blaming the woman for sexual harassment and rape.
2.213. It is the nature of women to seduce men in this (world); for that reason, the wise are never unguarded in (the company of) females.
2.214. For women are able to lead astray in (this) world not only a fool, but even a learned man, and (to make) him a slave of desire and anger.
2.215. One should not sit in a lonely place with one’s mother, sister, or daughter; for the senses are powerful, and master (overpower) even a learned man.
Women according to Manusmriti, are not to be trusted as it’s in their nature to seduce all men. It tacitly acknowledges incest and suggests that even one’s mother, sister and daughter can “arouse desire”.
That women who ‘drink’ or ‘smoke’ or ‘loiter’ around are essentially of bad character is also a ‘wisdom’ derived directly from Manusmriti. Women as a class are ‘libidinous and full of lust’, it says. Consider these verses from Chapter 9…
9.13. Drinking (spirituous liquor), associating with wicked people, separation from the husband, rambling abroad, sleeping (at unseasonable hours), and dwelling in other men’s houses, are the six causes of the ruin of women.
9.15. Through their passion for men, through their mutable temper, through their natural heartlessness, they become disloyal towards their husbands, however carefully they may be guarded in this (world).
This ‘slut shaming’ by Manusmriti often finds expression in everyday questions like: “What was she doing till so late, why was she wearing short clothes and why was she hanging out with boys?”
Last year, the Supreme Court upheld the historic judgement of Kerala High court allowing the entry of Women in their ‘reproductive age’ to enter the Sabrimala Temple. Several Hindu right-wing conservatives, mostly male and belonging to upper castes, said that the judgement was an attack on Hindu tradition and customs.
Opposing the entry of Women in their ‘reproductive age’, the president of the Travancore Dewasom Board, which manages the Sabrimala temple had said “allowing women inside will lead to “immoral activities” and turn the place into a “spot for sex tourism like Thailand”. This was again not very different from what Manusmriti had said.
3.239. A Candala, a village pig, a cock, a dog, a menstruating woman, and a eunuch must not look at the Brahmanas while they eat.
4.41.… wisdom, energy, strengthand the vitality of a man who approaches a woman covered with menstrual excretions, perish.
Honour killings also find a mention.
8.374. A Sudra who has intercourse with a woman of a twice-born caste (varna), guarded or unguarded, (shall be punished in the following manner): if she was unguarded, he loses the part (offending) and all his property; if she was guarded, everything (even his life).
Manusmritidoes speak highly of women who are “chaste, good and fulfil their duty towards their husband and family. But such references are fewer. It is the contempt for women that comes through more often than not.
Popular Hindi sayings like“Aurat narak ka dwar hai”; “Aurat ki jagaha chahardiwari ke andar hai”; “Aurat fasaad ki jad hai” etc. reflect the same mind-set that led to the writing of Manusmriti.
Curiously, nobody takes any offence at derogatory dialogues in films either. Dialogues like “bus, train aur chokri ... ek gayi doosri aati ha” or “Akeli ladki khuli tijori ” etc. are lapped up and repeated with relish.
Read or not read, Manusmriti should have no place anywhere except research institutions. So, there should be no hesitation in banning its publication and distribution.