We must applaud Thol Thirumavalavans stand on Manusmriti. BJP attacking the messenger – ThePrint

Posted: November 7, 2020 at 3:59 am

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The recent controversy over Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavans 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 womens equality. Second, the ill-informed response by the Bharatiya Janata Partys 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 innocentand that the murdered woman was an awaara.

I found nothing offensive in Thirumavalavans 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 Manusmritiwith 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 apoonal(sacred thread).

Onanotheroccasion, while visiting the Melukote temple nearMysuru, I had questioned apujariabout 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 didnt 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.

Also read: Dont listen to VHP and panic. Christianity is a failed project in India

I recount these exchanges to underscore thatManusmritiis 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 rebelssuch asAkka 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 Hindunationalists in their triumphalism over Indias 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 inSilicon 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 hadsocialreforms 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 conversationI 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 Manusmiti 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.

Also read: Whose Ram Rajya does Ayodhya temple bring Gandhis or Modis? Ambedkar can answer

In the United States, Hindunationalists have a unique dilemma. They want to avoid any honest discussion of the caste system and theManusmiti, 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 Manusmitihas 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 parallelsbetween 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 casteIt is the duty of other caste people to look after the Brahmins.

1963 interview with Prof. J.W. Elder of Universityof 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

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.

WhenBhimraoAmbedkar burnt the text of theManusmritiin 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 societys 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,theBJP has shown its desperation to look for a wedge issue in an innately secular TamilNadu.

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

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We must applaud Thol Thirumavalavans stand on Manusmriti. BJP attacking the messenger - ThePrint

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November 7th, 2020 at 3:59 am

Posted in Hinduism