‘Manuvad’ has become a hot topic in Indian politics today. The orthodox RSS and its feeding political party like BJP are more likely advocating for the ‘ism,’ whereas the ‘dalit political parties’ like BSP have raised their voices against that inhuman religious code. Manuvad, based on “Manu Samhita” or “Manu Smriti” as the ‘social code,’ presents itself as a discourse given by the sage Manu to a group of seers, or rishis, who beseeched him to tell them the “law of all the social classes (1.2).” Manu became the standard point of reference for all future Dharmaśāstras that followed it.
However, there are still some fallacies in the Hindu mind regarding Manu Smriti or Manu Samhita.
Fallacies and Facts:
Fallacy: Manu Samhita is a part of Vedic Scriptures.
Fact: The Vedic period stretched from the second and first millennia BCE continuing up to the sixth century BCE based on literary evidence. Mahavira and Buddha arrived in around sixth century BCE and they both counterattacked Vedic concepts on social and spiritual grounds. These two preachers never claimed themselves as God and they are also considered as the path finders of Hinduism. Buddhism became a separate religion when it came to China. The dominance of Buddha and Mahavira over Hinduism continued up to Maurya Empire (from ca. 320 BCE). And this period also was treated as the golden age, the classical age of Sanskrit literature, and the Middle kingdoms of India. After the breakdown of the Maurya and Shunga empires, there was a period of uncertainty that led to renewed interest in traditional social norms and the Brahmanical religion, which suffered during Buddhist and Jainist rule, tried to revive it again. Manu Smriti or Manu Samhita was written at that time and critics find contradictions in concept, especially when the scriptures try to state the position of women in society.
Certain verses of Manu Samhita (e.g. III - 55, 56, 57, 59, 62) glorify the position of women, while other verses (e.g. IX - 3, 17) seem to attack the position and freedom women have. Certain interpretations of verses IX - 18 claim that it discourages women from reading Vedic scriptures. But verse II - 240, however, allows women to read Vedic scriptures. Similar contradictory phrases are encountered in relation to child marriage in verses IX - 94 and IX - 90.
It is also doubtful that the scriptures were written by a single person but were probably written by many. Some scriptures in that Samhita are so contradictory that the founder of Arya Samaj, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, a noteworthy nineteenth century campaigner for women's rights, cites Manu's laws hundreds of times in his writings. In his opinion, verses highly critical of women and the lower classes (sudras) are not Vedic at all but interpolations introduced later by the corrupted Brahminical class. Another scholar, Dr. Surendra Kumar, claims that out of a total of 2,685 verses in the current Manusmriti, only 1,214 are authentic or can be confirmed by the Vedas; the other 1,471 are purported to be interpolations.
Fallacy: It is believed that the text is the earliest and foremost and only Law created by Manu, whose status is like Moses in Greco-Semitic religions.
Fact: Manu’s time period is 200 B.C.E to 200 A.C.E , while Moses died in about Feb-Mar 1271 BCE ( Access: Death of Moses at http://jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=830&letter=M&search=moses#2846 } The Greco-Semitic religion started with Moses, but Manu is much more younger to the History of Hinduism. Secondly, Manu Samhita is not the only source of Hindu laws as it is claimed. There is also Laws of Yājñavalkya in the Hindu religion. Besides these two authors, Āpastamba, Gautama, Baudhāyana, and Vasistha are some writers who authored in Dharmashashtra, a primarily Hindu text which refers to religious and legal duty.
Fallacy: The text claims that Bhrigu was a student of Manu, to whom he (Manu) taught these lessons.
Fact: Actually Bhrigu was a saint of the Vedic period in around 3000 B.C.E (See: “Bhrigu-Samhita: An ancient manuscript with medical matters of interest” by Ashok D. B. Vaidya published in CURRENT SCIENCE , VOL. 81, NO. 7, 10 OCTOBER 2001. This article may be viewed at http://www.ias.ac.in/currsci/oct102001/735.pdf ). Hence it is mere or virtual imagination or a deliberately wrong quoted misrepresentation that Manu taught his Samhita to Bhrigu.
Fallacy: The British colonial rulers and contemporary conservative Hindu radicals claim that Manu Samhita is followed universally by Hindus and is a common code for Hindu religion.
Fact: Manu Samhita was never followed by Hindus unanimously. In earlier days, the Vaishnavaites, the Shaivas and the Smartas never followed this text. In modern times, modern liberals, Hindu reformists, Dalit advocates, feminists, Marxists are the firebrand critics of this Samhita. It is only the British ruler, who paid importance to Manu Samhita to prepare codes of law for the natives. In 1794, Sir William Jones published the English translation of the Samhita to help the British ruler and it was propagated as the only Hindu code by the British administration.
What Manu Samhita Advised:
Laws of Manu has 2,694 stanzas in 12 chapters. The inhuman code of Manu divides Hindus into four varnas: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra. According to Manu, the supreme creator Brahma, gave birth to the Brahmins from his mouth; the Kshatriyas from his shoulders; the Vaishyas from his thighs; and Shudras from his feet (Manu's code I-31.)
Let the first part of a Brahman’s name denote something auspicious; a Kshatriya’s be connected with power; and a Vaishya’s with wealth; but a Shudra’s express something contemptible (Manu II. 31.)
Let the second part of a Brahmin’s name be a word implying happiness; of a Kshatriya’s, a word implying protection; a Vaishya’s, a term expressive of thriving; a Shudra’s, an expression denoting service (Manu II. 32).
A Shudra is unfit of receive education. The upper varnas should not impart education or give advice to a Shudra. It is not necessary that the Shudra should know the laws and codes and hence need not be taught. Violators will go to as amrita hell (Manu IV-78 to 81). One must never read the Vedas in the presence of the Shudras (Manu IV. 99). He who instructs Shudra pupils and he whose teacher is a Shudra shall become disqualified from being invited to a shradha (Manu III. 156).
A Brahmin who is only a Brahmin by decent, i.e., one who has neither studied nor performed any other act required by the Vedas may, at the king’s pleasure, interpret the law to him i.e., act as the judge, but never a Shudra, however learned he may be (Manu VIII. 20). Any Brahmin, who enslaves or tries to enslave a Brahmin, is liable for a penalty of no less than 600 PANAS. A Brahmin can order a Shudra to serve him without any remuneration because the Shudra is created by Brahma to serve the Brahmins. Even if a Brahmin frees a Shudra from slavery, the Shudra continues to be a slave as he is created for slavery. Nobody has the right to free him (Manu VIII-50,56 and 59). A Shudra who insults a twice- born man ( i.e. a Brahmin) with gross invectives shall have his tongue cut out for he is of low origin (Manu VIII. 270). If he mentions the names and castes of the (twice-born) wit contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers long, shall be thrust red hot into his mouth (Manu VIII. 271). If a Shudra arrogantly presumes to preach religion to Brahmins, the king shall order burning oil to be poured in his (Shudra’s) mouth and ears ( Manu VIII. 272). No Shudra should have property of his own; he should have nothing of his own. The existence of a wealthy Shudra is bad for the Brahmins. A Brahman may take possession of the goods of a Shudra (ManuVIII-417 & X129). No superfluous collection of wealth must be made by a Shudra, even though he has power to make it, since a servile man, who has amassed riches, becomes proud, and, by his insolence or neglect, gives pain to Brahmins (Manu X. 129).
Manu’s attitude was not only wild and inhuman for the Shudras. He possessed more furious ideas about women. His code describes:
"In childhood, a female must be subject to her father; in youth to her husband; then to her sons. A woman must never be independent. There is no God on earth for a woman than her husband.....She must on the death of her husband allow herself to be burnt alive on the same funeral pyre, that everyone will praise her virtue."
According to Manu, “all women are liars, corrupt, greedy, and unvirtuous (Manu II 1). It is the nature of women to seduce men in this (world); the wise are never unguarded in the company of males (Manu II. 213). Killing of a woman, a Shudra, or an atheist is not sinful. Women are an embodiment of the worst desires, hatred, deceit, jealousy and bad character. Women should never be given freedom (Manu IX. 17 and V. 47, 147). One should not sit in a lonely place with one's mother, sister, or daughter, for the senses are powerful and master even a learned man" (Manu II. 215). A Brahmin male by virtue of his birth becomes the first husband of all women in the universe (Manu III. 14). Though destitute or virtuous, or seeking pleasure elsewhere, or devoid of good qualities, yet a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife (Manu V. 154). At her pleasure, let her (i.e. widow) enunciate her body by living voluntarily on pure flowers, roots, and fruits, but let her not when her lord is deceased, even pronounce the name of another man (Manu V. 157). A woman must always maintain her virtue and surrender her body to her husband only, even if she is married off to an ugly person or even a leper (Manu IX. 14). Women have no right to study the Vedas. That is why their Sanskars are performed without Veda Mantras. Women have no knowledge of religion because they have no right to know the Vedas. [?] The uttering of Veda Mantras, they are as unclean as untruth is" (Manu IX. 18). None of the acts of women can be taken as good and reasonable (Manu X.4). A woman shall not perform the daily sacrifices prescribed by the Vedas. If she does it, she will go to hell (Manu XI. 36/37).
Manu Samhita’s Utility in Recent Days
Actually Manu Samhita lost its significance in a later period. The code was not accepted by Hindus, and Shaivas, Smartas and Vaishnavaites created their own codes of law. During colonial rule, Robert Clive and Lord Macaulay, gave another incarnation of Manu, finding this code as a useful tool to divide and rule over the Hindus. They argued that the caste system, as prescribed by the Manu Samhita, developed a de-facto apartheid social system that was very easy to subjugate and rule.
Hinduism is a different and a broad ‘platform’ for all, which the colonial rulers could not understand. It is different from other religions. Buddhism, Jainism and Skhism are also considered as a part of Hinduism. It is the political scenario, which barred Christianity or Islam to emerge with Hinduism. Otherwise, these religions might be considered as a part of Hinduism. The “Dharma” of Hinduism or “Dhamma” of Buddhism is different from the term ‘religion.’ It may be a fact of history that the politics of a ruler is always to try to hide this truth from the people and to try to misguide them. But, it is 100 percent true that this was not the original intention of the rishis and sages who actually produced the scriptures. In fact, there is constant reference in the Vedas to ‘BAHUJANA HITAY’ meaning the welfare of all people. Only in the medieval centuries, there was a lot of perversion, and the so-called lower castes were oppressed and feminine freedom was denied.
Never has Manu Samhita been found acceptable in the Hindu mind. Even the modern Hindu mind practically does not want to follow this rule. It is also very notorious to say that all upper-caste Hindus are Manuvaadi, as some dalit leaders often used to say in their public statements. They are the political parties who try to cash-in votes using the Manu Samhita as their currency. And perhaps this is where the Indian people are at the highest risk.
Readers can read the English translation of Manu Samhita from http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/manu.htm