Sunday, 26 June, 2022
HomeOpinionWe must applaud Thol Thirumavalavan’s stand on Manusmriti. BJP attacking the messenger

We must applaud Thol Thirumavalavan’s stand on Manusmriti. BJP attacking the messenger

In US, Hindu nationalists avoid discussing the caste system and Manusmriti, but want to be seen as allies in the fight for racial and gender equality.

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The recent controversy over Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavan’s remarks on the demeaning portrayal of women in the Manusmriti has already accomplished two things. First, it has shined a light on the rampant sexism practiced by many of our political leaders, who sanctimoniously claim to support women’s equality. Second, the ill-informed response by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Khushbu Sundar has exposed the hypocrisy of her organisation, one of whose leaders only recently declared that the men accused of the heinous rape in Hathras are innocent and that the murdered woman was an ‘awaara’.

I found nothing offensive in Thirumavalavan’s remarks, which were only highlighting the offensive verses from the Manusmriti. However, his call to ban the text brought two anecdotes to my mind.

Some years back, when I had broached the subject of Manusmriti with a family priest, he had declared with an air of finality, “Everything was fine in our society until we stopped following Manu.” He had earlier turned down a request from a woman wishing to perform ceremonies for her departed father, saying that he could only officiate if a person could sit bare-chested and with a poonal (sacred thread).

On another occasion, while visiting the Melukote temple near Mysuru, I had questioned a pujari about the tradition that allows the local Dalit community to take over the sanctum once a year (supposedly instituted by Ramanuja over 800 years ago). He didn’t sound too happy: “What can I say. These days they come in anytime they please.” My father later informed me that after the Dalits’ designated day of worship, the priests ‘purify’ the temple before resuming puja.


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Manusmriti is still alive

I recount these exchanges to underscore that Manusmriti is still alive and well in the minds of large sections of our society and ‘banning’ it is not going to banish bigotry from their minds.

What is desperately needed is a movement to reinvent Hinduism with urgent focus on eliminating gender and caste discrimination, perhaps taking cues from early rebels such as Akka Mahadevi, Basavanna, Kabir, and many others. Sadly, most Hindu religious leaders today seem unequal to the task. At best, they say that they themselves do not discriminate; at worst, they are too busy locking arms with Hindu nationalists in their triumphalism over India’s Muslims and Christians to care about the real state of Hinduism today.

Privileged urban middle-class Hindus, on the other hand, will often declare that an end to the caste system will come soon enough through generational changes. Unfortunately, there is little evidence of such change among the younger generations, even as caste-related and sexual violence are on the rise. Recent news reports of wide-spread caste bias in Silicon Valley challenge the very notion that we can simply sit back and let our future generations bring an end to casteism over time.

On another side of the caste debate, some will ridicule the very notion that Hinduism is capable of reform, suggesting that the only way to annihilate caste is to annihilate Hinduism. Such strident voices coming from historically oppressed communities are understandable, but are completely unrealistic and offer no practical pathways to eliminating the caste system.

Finally, Hindu nationalists have never had social reforms on their agenda. Instead, their priority has always been to portray themselves as the sole defenders of the Hindu faith from its ‘external enemies’.

No one could have put it more succinctly than my childhood friend and a senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) ideologue from Bengaluru who once told me that dealing with the ‘Muslim problem’ and Christian conversions were his top priorities. “We can address our internal family problems later,” he had said. “Why wash our dirty linen in public?”

Hindu nationalists have not changed much since that conversation I had decades ago, except that name-calling, intimidation, and violence have now become a major part of their portfolio.

In the meantime, their obfuscations and conspiracy theories are finding newer audiences, thanks to WhatsApp and coordinated Hindutva messaging like ‘Manusmṛiti is mostly forged and is the work of enemies of Hinduism’; ‘Varnashrama and the caste system are distinctly different’; ‘our scriptures do not mention caste, which was imposed by Islamic and British rulers’.


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Unique dilemma of Hindu nationalists

In the United States, Hindu nationalists have a unique dilemma. They want to avoid any honest discussion of the caste system and the Manusmṛiti, but they also want to be seen as allies in the fight for racial and gender equality. As a result, they spend an inordinate amount of time arguing that caste and race are not at all comparable and that the Manusmṛiti has nothing to do with Hinduism. And they fully exploit the multi-cultural-friendly school systems to demand that the State protect the sensibilities of their children by not portraying the caste system in a negative light and by not discussing the oppression of women and Dalits.

It must irk them greatly today that the Black Lives Matter movement is eliciting many parallels between the civil rights struggle and the continuing struggle of Dalits for equality.

Honesty and soul-searching have never been part of the Hindutva character. But the late learned Chandrasekarendra Sarasvati, the highly respected Kanchi Sankaracharya, had no qualms about telling it like it is:

According to the sastras, the Hindu community is divided into various castes. A particular duty is assigned to a particular caste. By heredity people come into a caste…It is the duty of other caste people to look after the Brahmins.

— 1963 interview with Prof. J.W. Elder of University of Wisconsin

He also went on to say that India being a secular State, it is the responsibility of religious leaders and institutions to see to the moral and religious uplift of society. Unfortunately, most such leaders, today, are utterly failing in those responsibilities by aligning themselves with an authoritarian and brutal ruling political class. I see no morality or religious upliftment in that.


Also read: Black lives mattered to Phule and Ambedkar. They had seen caste discrimination in India


Hinduism must own the ugly too

The fact of the matter is that like other religions of the world, Hinduism, too, has a legacy of the good, the bad, and the really ugly. Hindus must own it all first, before we can have an honest conversation about how to bring about real changes. And that conversation must begin by personally disavowing the ‘ugly’ at every opportunity we get.

When Bhimrao Ambedkar burnt the text of the Manusmriti in 1927, he was assisted by a Muslim and a Brahmin, who saw his symbolic act for what it was — an act of resistance to raise society’s consciousness about the fundamental inequities of Hinduism.

We must applaud Thirumavalavan for reminding us 93 years later that those inequities are still continuing. The difference, however, is that the Dalit movements today can count on many more non-Dalit allies by their side as they carry forward their struggle for equality.

By attacking the messenger, the BJP has shown its desperation to look for a wedge issue in an innately secular Tamil Nadu.

Raju Rajagopal is co-founder of Hindus for Human Rights @Hndus4HR. Views are personal.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Many of these people like these Valavan to Vairamuthu talk all they want and abuse Hinduism/ Hindus/Hindu gods. I have never heard them talking like this against Holy/Unholy books of other religions. Why?
    This a just a political trick that they play in South India to keep people confused and divided. Dravidian ideas is already over spent and used to the hilt, these people cannot innovate. They keep using the same formula and don’t see reality. That’s the bane of mediocre mind that Valavan is .

    When he is seeking votes, he would use his community affiliation to the hilt, just a narrow minded guy with a reptilian brain, pissing around and fixing boundaries. These people never unite but only sow seeds of discontentment to reap electoral dividends.
    This is exactly the politician a progressive and forward looking country should defeat.

  2. I agree with the author completely on this issue. I am neither suvarna nor dalit and I believe that gives me a balanced perspective since I am also an atheist Hindu. We need to remove MANUSMRITI completely from Hindu tradition & teachings if we are to reform our religion before expecting other religions to reform and criticising them for not reforming.
    There is a saying by a philosopher that ” Any law which is not fair is not a law.” Similarly, I would say any God or the religion in his name, who is not being fair is not a God/religion at all.

    • Hinduism is not a religion and doesn’t dictate any kind of belief system. As you mention one can be an atheist or agnostic Hindu. As for reformation how does one reform a practised creed that makes no demands or sets down any rules or commandments. Seriously how many people even know the Manusmriti in full, leave alone following it in their daily lives. Most people follow the crowd or existing social and cultural practices without much though, not as a command of Hinduism.

  3. Well the smriti can be changed any time. That really should not be an issue. It is indeed surprising that modern day matadhipathi’s do not declare as much and abolish caste system or at least abolish discrimination.

  4. “I recount these exchanges to underscore that Manusmriti is still alive and well in the minds of large sections of our society and ‘banning’ it is not going to banish bigotry from their minds.”

    He quotes 2 examples and then claims that 2 examples equals the attitude of a large section of 800 million Hindus from Kashmir to Kanyakumari!

    If any further proof of the dubious argument presented here is necessary, please look no further that this absurd “wisdom” of this clown who seeks to edify us with his “pure” mind free from all bigotry, except the hatred of Brahmins!

    The absurdity continues with the laughable claim that there has been no change in “Hindutva” attitudes since generations despite the fact that today a Dalit is President and a Backward caste leader is the PM!

    But then facts and so-called “progressives” never have to be acquainted! Only self-righteous pablum will suffice the self-advertised champion of the pretentious “Hindus4Humanrights” clown posse!

  5. Ancient texts have to be interpreted, changed (if necessary) and adapted for the times.
    On the contrary if ancient texts and holy scriptures were to be banned based on a couple of “offending” phrases in them, I suppose we will not have any scriptures or holy texts that will pass.
    You see, change is the only constant.

  6. It is not correct to say people still follow the manu smriti. If the smriti is wrong or retrograde, be it so – then why we have the constitution ? Manu smriti is the least of the problems india faces now ((if it is a problem at all). Jutifying dalit opression vai the manu smriti is absurd. The practices pointed out by the writer are blatantly unconstitutional. Can somenone show us, who among the so called Hindus, is carrying this manu smriti as their ideology or scripts ? It is safe to assume that 99% of the Hindus have not read this document and are suprised by the controversy. Thiruma, sees that his dalit centric politics is being usurped by the TN BJP leader, who also is a dalit. What is the necessity to bring to the fore this manu smriti issue at this jucnture – Thituma has nothing to lose, if at all he can consolidate the dalit votes thru this. Why is it that th major political parties – DMK, ADMK or Congress not tkaing the same stand as Thiruma ? They will not becuse this will alientate the major Hindus, and that too at the time of elections getting cloer. Can the writer answer this. I dont support manu smriti or any other scripture – we have laid down laws in this land and the constitution which we need to follow.

  7. These days, ignorance reigns supreme. Knowedge in an anathema. The topic is a non-issue. People are getting beheaded for showing some cartoons because of religious bigotry. Here this writer is talking about an ancient book which is no longer followed. This writer ought to know that whole India, except Bengal follow Mitakshara, which is a commentary on Yajnavalkya Smriti. Manusmriti was rivived by William Jones in 18th century end, when he wanted to know Hindu Shastras and engaged some Pandits to write Hindu Law digest for him.

  8. People like Mr. Raju Rajagopal are the ones who will defame, denigrate, vilify and demonize Hinduism for its various ills. And quite rightly so. The religion is indeed beset with issues and is awfully slow to reform.
    However, him and others of his ilk will never utter a word on the “crisis” of Islam across the world – as quite prudently pointed out by the French President.

    • Because there are no such self righteous clowns in Islam who go around claiming they are “Mohammedans 4Humanrights” because Islam doesnt recognise Human rights!

  9. Urban naxal and leftist liberals want to progate negative values of Indian alone abroad, Their netwoek used to be very active in feeding such information. Hindus are not fools anymore to lsiten to this anti hindu crowd. THis crowd is geting challenged abroad just like inIndia

    Talk abut Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita why do you want to tlak one secitonof manu smriti, unles your intention is weaken and elimiante hinduism.
    Talk about verses in Quran if you are truly seclar.

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