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The “Neech” Debate: Here’s What Manu-Smriti, a Favourite of RSS, Has to Say About it

P.G. Ambedkar |
The RSS wanted Manu-Smriti to be the basis of India’s Constitution and criticized Dr. Ambedkar for not following it.

Newsclick Image by Nitesh Kumar

At the recent inauguration of Dr Ambedkar International Centre in Delhi, a controversy was created around the issue of Prime Minister Narendra Modi being called a “neech” or low person. BJP fumed with outrage while Modi, turned it into a campaign issue in Gujarat.

A couple of days later, BJP MP Nana Patole, who is from a Backward Caste, resigned from Parliament stating that “When I was demanding a separate ministry for the OBCs, it was Mr. Modi who had shouted at me and questioned its need saying that the OBC’s don’t need it. I also come from a backward caste but when I raised the issues of my people, you shout at me. But you go in the election and flaunt your OBC background. What have you done for the OBCs? They are still away from progress.”

It is bizarre to hear BJP, the political front of RSS, expressing outrage over what they think are caste based derogatory references because RSS epitomises Brahmin superiority and denigration of so called lower castes in word and deed. So much so, Dr Ambedkar was humiliated and insulted during his life time by RSS for proposing to bring radical changes in the society through the Constitution. The RSS believed that Manu Smriti should be the basis of the Indian Constitution and called Dr Ambedkar all kinds of names for not following the ancient text. Ramchandra Guha says, a letter published in the RSS mouthpiece, ‘Organiser’, on January 11, 1950, belittles Dr Ambedkar by drawing an analogy with “Lilliput”. The letter states that Dr Ambedkar cannot be called the Modern Manu as it “is an instance of depicting a Lilliput as a Brobdingnag. It borders on ridicule to put Dr Ambedkar on par with the learned and god-like Manu… ”. The Indian Constitution, which is appreciated world over for its progressive content, was a disappointment for the RSS. The Organiser had stated in the November 30, 1949 issue:

The worst about the new constitution of Bharat is that there is nothing Bhartiya about it. The drafters of the Constitution have incorporated in it elements of British, American, Canadian, Swiss and sundry other constitutions. But there is no trace of ancient Bhartiya constitutional laws, institutions, nomenclature and phraseology in it…But in our constitution, there is no mention of the unique constitutional development in ancient Bharat. Manu’s Laws were written long before Lycurgus of Sparta or Solon of Persia. To this day his laws as enunciated in the Manusmriti excite the admiration of the world and elicit spontaneous obedience and conformity. But to our constitutional pundits that means nothing.”

While conservative Hindus see Manusmriti as a document that “excite(s) the admiration of the world”, the laws of Manu really need to be examined to see what it has to say about women, the lower castes and the “untouchables”.

The Manusmriti is a law-book that prescribes rules and regulations for the four varnas (Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra) as well as avarnas or the “untouchables” or the chandalas. The book bestows privileges upon the Brahmin men, which is what the RSS leadership is made of. For women, lower-castes and untouchables, there are no rights at all.

The law book – which the RSS wants as the guiding document to run India – has certain prescriptions for the untouchable castes on what they can eat; what property they can own; what should be their clothing, and how and where they should live (excerpts from ‘Laws of Manu’, published by Penguin):

[50] These (castes) should live near mounds, trees, and cremation-grounds, in mountains and in groves, recognizable and making a living by their own innate activities.

[51] But the dwellings of ‘Fierce’ Untouchables and ‘Dog-cookers’ should be outside the village; they must use discarded bowls, and dogs and donkeys should be their wealth.

[52] Their clothing should be the clothes of the dead, and their food should be in broken dishes; their ornaments should be made of black iron, and they should wander constantly.

[53] A man who carries out his duties should not seek contact with them; they should do business with one another and marry with those who are like them.

[54]Their food, dependent upon others, should be given to them in a broken dish, and they should not walk about in villages and cities at night.

[55] They may move about by day to do their work, recognizable by distinctive marks in accordance with the king’s decrees; and they should carry out the corpses of people who have no relatives; this is a fixed rule.

[56] By the king’s command, they should execute those condemned to death, always in accordance with the teachings, and they should take for themselves the clothing, beds, and ornaments of those condemned to death.

One look at these laws that Manu prescribed for the untouchable castes makes it clear why the Constituent Assembly did not even mention the “law-book”.

The “law-book” even dictates what names of the people should be the according to their castes.

[31] (The name) of a priest should have (a word for) auspiciousness, of a ruler strength, of a commoner property, and (the name) of a servant should breed disgust.

[32] The name of a priest should have (a word for) secure comfort, of a king it should have protection, of a commoner it should be connected with prosperity, and of a servant it should be connected with service.

Among the current crop of people hailing from the lower castes, the usage of such names is decreasing because of education and the notions of equality that have been made possible because of the Indian Constitution. Otherwise the lower-castes would continue to have the names that gave away their social locations. Remember the name of the untouchable cricketer in the movie Lagaan? It was ‘Kachraa’ which means garbage. Yes, such names have their basis in the laws of Manu. Remember, the RSS wants to have Manusmriti as the Constitution of the country.

Also remember, Dr Ambedkar was attacked for bringing in the Hindu Code Bill, as the Law Minister of the country. In the Bill, for the first time, there was an attempt to give equal rights to women. It gave woman the right to property and to choose to marry whoever and to end a marriage that was harming a woman’s being.

The RSS not only opposed the Bill but organised protests across the country. Guha in his book ‘India after Gandhi’ writes, “The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) threw its weight behind the agitation. On 11 December 1949, the RSS organised a public meeting at the Ram Lila grounds in Delhi, where speaker after speaker condemned the bill. One called it ‘an atom bomb on Hindu society.’”

The RSS was against the Bill that empowered the Hindu woman because their favoured book, the Manu-Smriti, had the following prescriptions for women:

Chapter 9

[3] Her father guards her in childhood, her husband guards her in youth, and her sons guard her in old age. A woman is not fit for independence.

[10] No man is able to guard women entirely by force, but they can be entirely guarded by using these means:

[11] he should keep her busy amassing and spending money, engaging in purification, attending to her duty, cooking food, and looking after the furniture.

[12] Women are not guarded when they are confined in a house by men who can be trusted to do their jobs well; but women who guard themselves by themselves are well guarded.

The Constitution of India drafted by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar and passed by the Constituent Assembly is an antithesis to the Manu-Smriti.

The Constitution of India recognizes everyone equal before the law unlike Manusmriti:

Art.14. The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

Art.15.(1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.

(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subject to any disability, liability, restriction or condition with regard to—

(a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or

(b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public.

(3) Nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any special provision for women and children.

The constitution also mandates the state to create special polices for the communities that are lagging behind others in terms of education, employment and economy.

The debate that is needed is about what polices are being pursued, what is their impact and whether they are in consonance with the ideas of Dr Ambedkar as enshrined in the Constitution or not. The BJP-RSS camp can hardly claim to represent these ideas because it is intrinsically opposed to both the Constitution and Dr Ambedkar’s vision of social equality and justice.

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