The Return of Manu
Dr Shamsul Islam
Former Faculty, Political Science, Delhi University
This story appeared in many publications on the eve of 55th anniversary (2004) of the Indian Republic. There was BJP government in Madhya Pradesh led by Uma Bharti, a seasoned RSS cadre. Her government, while banning cow killing and announcing harsh punishment for the same, referred to Manusmriti for justification. It was the first time in the history of free India that any government communication had referred to Manusmriti as a model. Manusmriti denigrates Dalits and women. This article is being reproduced now to show that under BJP/RSS government love for this book has greatly grown. Shockingly, even a Supreme Court judge to referred to it as a document to be emulated. These forces want to undo a democratic-secular constitution and want it to be replaced by Laws of Manu. The Hindutva camp had demanded Manusmriti as the constitution of India on the eve of independence. The situation is very critical and all those who want a democratic-secular India must be familiar with facts which this article tries to accomplish. Importantly, Dr. Ambedkar was present at Mahad (now in Maharashtra) where this inhuman work was burnt. — Dr Shamsul Islam
The Indian Republic in its 55th year of existence is increasingly coming under horrifying threats from the Hindutva gang. Shockingly, such attacks do not even get reported, what to talk of creating ripples in the democratic fraternity of our country. The latest brazen violation has taken place in the state of Madhya Pradesh and there has been no protest from any quarter. The recently enthroned BJP Government of Madhya Pradesh led by Uma Bharti has promulgated an Ordinance (January 23, 2004) banning cow slaughter in the state. But it was not the end of the story. Astonishingly, the official statement explaining the rationale behind this step refers to Manusmriti (Manu Code) to justify the ban.
It reads: “Manu Smriti ranks the slaughterer of cow as predator and prescribes hard punishment for him.” Uma Bharti a well-known sadhvi of the RSS needs no introduction. She played highly nefarious role as an orator in spreading hatred against Muslims in late 1980s, which subsequently led to the organized carnage of Muslims in different parts of the country and demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
It is no place to discuss the merits and demerits of ban on cow slaughter. The RSS claim that beef eating started with the arrival of Muslims in India is not even in keeping with the Vedic version of history. Undeniably, poor cow has become another tool in the hands of RSS for communal mobilization. This is being done in complete disregard of the historical facts and findings of the Hindu saints like Swami Vivekananda who is otherwise publicly revered by the RSS.
Vivekananda while speaking on the theme of the “Buddhistic India” at the Shakespeare Club, Pasadena, California on February 2, 1900 said: “You will be astonished if I tell you that, according to the old ceremonials, he is not a good Hindu who does not eat beef. On certain occasions he must sacrifice a bull and eat it.”1
Other research works sponsored by the Ramakrishna Mission established by Vivekananda himself corroborate this. C. Kunhan Raja an authority on Vedic India did not miss the fact of widespread beef eating in the ancient India. “The Vedic Aryans, including the Brahmanas, ate fish, meat and even beef. A distinguished guest was honoured with beef served at a meal. Although the Vedic Aryans ate beef, milch cows were not killed. One of the words that designated cow was aghnya (what shall not be killed). But a guest was a goghna (one for whom a cow is killed). It is only bulls, barren cows and calves that were killed.”2
But the most worrisome for the future of the Indian Republic is the official commitment of the Uma Bharti Government to enforce the Manu Smriti as part of the constitutional law of the country. It is probably first time in the constitutional history of Independent India that a law is being justified for being in tune with Manu Smriti. The Codes of Manu may be dear to RSS but it is known as anti-thesis to the existence and rights of women and Dalits.
Manu Smriti or Manavadharmasastra also known, as Codes of Manu is believed to have been composed by saint Manu in 1500 BC. It presents in totality the system of jurisprudence of Hinduism. The German Indologist Max Muller got this translated as the “Laws of Manu” which was first published in 1886 under the series, “The Sacred Books of the East”. Manu as a saint and learned Brahmin holds a place of reverence in the high caste Hindu world of thought. Besides prescribing persecution for cow slaughter as claimed by the MP Government it denigrates lower castes and women. There has been a demand to install a magnificent statue of Manu in the Parliament House in Delhi, though one such statue stands outside the High Court of Rajasthan in Jaipur, despite strong protest from the organizations of Dalits. It is to be noted here that Dr. Ambedkar himself burnt a copy of Manu Smriti on the banks of Narmada River in 1928.
If Uma Bharti Government has begun the process of implementing the Codes of Manu there is surely going to be end of the road for Dalits and women in India. To what miserable and dehumanized status their lives will be reduced to can be known by having a glance of the Manu Codes about them. Following are some of the prescriptions of Manu for Sudras or lower castes.
“For the sake of the prosperity of the worlds (the divine one) caused the Brahmana, the Kashtriya, the Vaisya and the Sudra to proceed from His mouth, His arm, His thighs and His feet. One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Sudras, to serve meekly these (other) three castes. A Sudra who insults a high caste man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out for he is of low origin. If he (Sudra) arrogantly teaches Brahmanas their duty, the king shall cause hot oil to be poured into his mouth and into his ears. A low-caste man who tries to place himself on the same seat with a man of high caste, shall be branded on his hips and be banished, or (the king) shall cause his buttock to be gashed. Let (the first part of) a Brahmana’s name (denote something) auspicious, a Kshatriya’s be connected with power, and a Vaisya’s with wealth, but a Sudra’s (express something) contemptible. (The second part of) a Brahmana’s (name) shall be (a word) implying happiness, of a Kshatriya’s (a word) implying protection, of a Vaisya’s (a term) expressive of thriving, and of a Sudra’s (an expression) denoting service. The service of Brahmanas alone is declared (to be) an excellent occupation for a Sudra; for whatever else besides this he may perform will bear him no fruit. The remnants of their food must be given to him, as well as their old clothes, the refuse of their grain, and their old household furniture. No collection of wealth must be made by a Sudra, even though he be able (to do it); for a Sudra who has acquired wealth, gives pain to Brahmanas. The son of a Brahmana, a Kshatriya, and a Vaisya by a Sudra (wife) receives no share of the inheritance; whatever his father may give to him, that shall be his property. Let him (Brahmana) not dwell in a country where the rulers are Sudras, nor in one which is surrounded by unrighteous men, nor in one which has become subject to heretics, nor in one swarming with men of the lowest castes. Let a Brahmna not give to a Sudra advice, nor the remnants (of his meal), nor food offered to the gods; nor let him explain the sacred law (to such a man), nor impose (upon him) a penance. For he who explains the sacred law (to a Sudra) or dictates to him a penance, will sink together with that (man) into the hell (called) Asamvrita.”
On women Manusmriti’s prescriptions are no lesser fascist. “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. 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. When creating them Manu allotted to women (a love of their) bed, (of their) seat and (of) ornament, impure desires, wrath, dishonesty, malice, and bad conduct. Through their passion for men, through their mutable temper, through their natural heartlessness, they become disloyal to their husbands, however, carefully they may be guarded in this world. For women no (sacramental) rite (is performed) with sacred texts, thus the law is settled; women (who are) destitute of strength and destitute of (the knowledge of) Vedic texts (are as impure as) the falsehood (itself), that is a fixed rule.3
It has been a long standing demand of the RSS to replace the Indian Constitution with the Codes of Manu as specified in Manu Smriti. When the Constituent Assembly of India finally passed the Constitution (November 26, 1949), the RSS organ Organizer came out with an editorial (November 30, 1949) titled “Constitution”. It read: “The worst about the new Constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bhartiya about it…There is no trace of ancient Bhartiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclatures and phraseology in it…Manu‟s Laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manu Smriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”
How holy and sacred is Manusmriti for the Hindu Right needs no probe with the following utterances of the philosopher and guide of Hindutva and RSS, VD Savarkar. According to him, “Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worship-able after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu Law.”4
When India came to be declared as a Sovereign Democratic Republic on January 26, 1950, Sankar Subba Aiyar, a retired High Court Judge, demanded on behalf of the RSS immediate promulgation of the Manu Codes. He wrote in the RSS organ (“Manu Rules Our Hearts”): “Even though Dr Ambedkar is reported to have recently stated in Bombay, that that the days of Manu are ended it is nevertheless a fact that the daily lives of Hindus are even at the present day affected by principles and injunctions contained in Manu Smrithis and other Smrithis. Even an unorthodox Hindu feels himself bound at least in some matters by the rules contained in the Smrithis and he feels powerless to give up altogether his adherence to them.”5
Uma Bharti Government’s reference to the sanctions of Manu is in fact fulfillment of Hindutva gang’s old dream of converting Indian Republic into a theocracy with complete Brahmanical hegemony. Cow may be the mascot but real price will have to be paid by common Dalits and women. The tragedy is that there are no whistle-blowers for the Republic of India. The flag-bearers of the Sovereign Democratic Secular India are in coma waiting for the Hindutva gang to make public the obituary of the Indian Republic.
1 Swami Vivekananda, The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Vol 3, Advaita Ashram, Calcutta, 1997 reprint, p. 536.
2 C. Kunhan Raja, „Vedic Culture‟, cited in the series, Suniti Kumar Chatterji and others (eds.), The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol 1, The Ramakrishna Mission, Calcutta, 1993 (first edition 1937), p. 217.
3 All Codes cited from Max Muller edited edition.
4 V. D. Savarkar, „Women In Manusmriti‟ in „Savarkar Samagar‟, A collection of Savarkar‟s writings in Hindi- Volume 4, Prabhat, Delhi, 2000. p. 416 )
5 The Organizer, February, 6, 1950 p. 7.