Manudharma and Indian Secularism


(Chief Guest speech at DHPS Conference on Manudharma, Dalits and Constitution held on 17-3-2024, Visakhapatnam.)

Manudharma, the ancient Hindu code is still haunting the lives of people. The importance and effective implementation of the code through open and hidden agenda of the Hindu ruling classes has never ceased to be a concern in the mainstream debates before it precipitously came to the fore now. It is now an important issue for public discourse of certain groups who were not seen in the public domain earlier is busy debating it in the social media. However, the rigor and the rhythm of the discourse appears to be pale as the mainstream public intellectuals are busy debating Chinese aggression and the magnificent rise of  the rank of Ambani in the World of wealth accumulation. It is not surprising if the March 2020 report on “Caste is not a thing of the Past: Bahujan stories from the newsroom floor”, a sponsored study of Thomson Reuters Foundation published by Oxford University Press is considered demure.  The main conclusion of the report is that 88 percent of the journalists both in English and other languages in India belong to a single caste. Naturally, they are busy with their own agenda of observing the conspiracy of silence or passionately argue to make the opponent lose not their cool but life in the Newsrooms. Yet, this News has not been reported in the mainstream as if it is a sin. Yes, it is, if they sincerely follow the precepts and dictates of the pious age old Hindudharma ordained by Manu the great son of Brahma. As per the Matsyapurana Manu was the first person who was created out of the union of Brahma and Shatrupa (saraswati). There are insinuations in the puranic and Vedic literature that Manu was the first born like that of Adam in the Mediterranean or Abrahamic faiths. In fact the first part of Manudharma and Bible speak how after the Great Flood Noah in the Mediterranean with 7 people and Manu in Aryavarta with sapta rishis saved the World. It is an indication of the alien nature of Arya Brahmin who landed in India to conquer by dividing the people in to Varnas with Brahmin as the Supreme Being by birth.

Manudharmasastra had been guiding the destiny of this country ever since the aliens landed in the Sindhuland. Therefore, when their distant cousins in the guise of British (as they are also from the legacy of Bharat as Britain, Waddel,1925) emanated in India or Bharat, several manvantaras later during VaivasvataManvantara (?), it was felt that it is their pious duty to bring back the code to life. Therefore, William Jones the great Philologist and Supreme Court Judge at Calcutta translated Manudharmasastra in to English in 1794 after his ardent ode on Narayena, the spirit of god. In fact, it was Warren Hastings the Governor-General in 1773,  instituted a policy of ruling India ‘on its ancient laws, and…[ruling the Hindu] people with ease and moderation according to their own ideas, manners and prejudices’; for Hastings, this was the only just way to impose foreign rule: ‘It would be a grievance to deny the people protection of their own laws, but it could be a wanton tyranny to require their obedience to others of which they are wholly ignorant’. It was Warren Hastings who commissioned Wilkins to translate BhagavadGita in to English and wrote a liberal introduction. Therefore, Raymond Schwab argues that ‘The Orient served as alter ego to the Occident’, suggesting the way in which the two complemented each other, rather than competed with – or controlled – the other.” Thus, quite contrary to the critique of the Hindutva against the English conspiracy, it was the English who had considered the Indians as their long lost (Aryan) kin and helped to universalize Hindu dharma starting with Manudhrmasastra.

William Jones got the manuscript from one Kulluk Bhatt of Calcutta, a script that was assumed to belong to 18th century. The German scholars and the hidden Aryan project dated the code to 1250 BCE, but later it was found based on the structure of the language as post-Vedic. It is now considered as a document of the period 200BC-200 AD. Noted scholars report that it has guided the destines of Hindu kingdoms not only in India but its diaspora in East Asia  like Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia including the Buddhist realms. Having held the code in such high esteem, the Hindutva brigade propagates that it is a universal code and is the first in human history. However, after the JNU campus fizzledevent in 2016, it was reported that a section of ABVP belonging to Samskar Bharat wanted to revise it to drop references to women, Sudras and other demeaning mentions.  Though the colonial rulers have brought it to the mainstream attention during the modern period, it was nevertheless guided all the dynasties from the very beginning. After all most of the rulers from the beginning either Greek, Kushan, Mughal or modern relied on one class of advisers who might have considered their common origin being the same used the code to rule the Native Indians.

The ancestry of the code as propagated by a section of the Hindus seems to be not reckoning with the available historical records of written codes. The Hamurabbi Code of Babylon is dated 1792BCE. It means that it is more than 1500 years older than Manu. But it is likely that the Manu code resembling all other ancient references was copied from Hamurabbi. It is established in the modern historical texts that the aliens (some modern historians change their stand on Aryans) belonging to the same stock of tribes in the steppes or BAMAC (Caucasian) got dispersed, some gone to Greece, some to Iran and few to Sindhu around 1500-1600BCE might have carried the code in their usual memory. This description further strengthens the human Genetic studies of Harvard and others that the Ancient North Indians including the dwija castes had no relations with the local tribes in terms of their genetic markers.This is also an important indicator that the aliens who landed in the Sindhuhad crossed the modern so called Taliban groups in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Tajikisthan (BMAC). Therefore, one should not get surprised in the harmony and intensity of using violence against the adversary amongst the groups that look alike. (It is beyond the scope of this paper to dwell on factors as to why do they appear to be quarrelling in India.)

 Why is the content of Manudharma ,became the bone of contention among the Non-Dwija groups today ? This is a serious matter which no one took it up either during the freedom movement or by the left, democratic and the so called secular civil society today. It was Dr. B. R Ambedkar who studied it clearly, may be as a Law student and practioner, burnt it in 1927 at Mahad. It was not even cited as a significant event by scholars, if not a landmark in the history of Hindu India. What is the problem with this code? The English translation and translations in almost all languages are now available to ponder over it. The book of around 200 pages contains 12 chapters and 2690 stanzas, codes. Out of which, it is noted that 1034 (39%) codes relate to Brahmins, 971 to Kshatriya and the remaining to Vaishya, Sudra, women and others. In fact, the first chapter looks like the Bible Genesis. It says, at I.22, “”He, the Lord, also created the class of the gods, who are endowed with life, and whose nature is action; and the subtle class of the Sadhyas, and the eternal sacrifice.I.23. But from fire, wind, and the sun he drew forth the threefold eternal Veda, called Rik, Yagus, and Saman, for the due performance of the sacrifice. At I.24, time and the divisions of time, the lunar mansions and the planets, the rivers, the oceans, the mountains, plains, and uneven ground. I.31 But for the sake of the prosperity of the worlds he caused the Brahmana, the Kshatriya, the Vaisya, and the Sudra to proceed from his mouth, his arms, his thighs, and his feet.” So the description is perhaps a repeat of Purushasuktha (different opinions, but no one disowns).  It goes on like that.

The most contentious part of the code is in Chapter I.  I.98 , “the very birth of a Brahmana is an eternal incarnation of the sacred law; for he is born to (fulfill) the sacred law, and becomes one with Brahman. I.99. A Brahmana, coming into existence, is born as the highest on earth, the lord of all created beings, for the protection of the treasury of the law. I.100 “whatever exists in the world is the property of the Brahmana; on account of the excellence of his origin. The Brahmana is, indeed, entitled to all.” It is also noted that there is discrimination among the three privileged Dwijas. The Brahmin is ordained to wear a cotton thread, the Kshatriya hemp and vaishya wool. II. 45 “A Brahmana shall (carry), according to the sacred law, a staff of Bilva or Palasa; a Kshatriya, of Vata or Khadira; (and) a Vaisya, of Pilu or Udumbara.” Like that the Brahmin is given the supreme position not by his achievements as argued by many, but ascribed by Manu based on their birth, is immutable as we see it later in the code. Women are given the least status in the code may be like all other Aryan tribes including the Babylon, Hittite and other related clans. III .1.For the first marriage of twice-born men (wives) of equal caste are recommended; but for those who through desire proceed (to marry again) the following females, (chosen) according to the (direct) order (of the castes), are most approved. Twice-born men who, in their folly, wed wives of the low (Sudra) caste, soon degrade their families and their children to the state of Sudras.  In chapter V the status of women is codified as follows. 147. “By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house.148. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.149. She must not seek to separate herself from her father, husband, or sons; by leaving them she would make both (her own and her husband’s) families contemptible.150. She must always be cheerful, clever in (the management of her) household affairs, careful in cleaning her utensils, and economical in expenditure.”

Manudharma or smriti is being cited by some activists to show that the Hindutva philosophy is the hidden agenda of ruling classes is being followed now in all areas of governance. They cite examples how caste based reservations are diluted by declaring Art 15 and 16 as not fundamental rights of S.C , ST and OBC categories to get jobs as rights, quality education is indirectly denied through a national policy and the most invidious policy is the act of giving reservations to dwijas not in proportion to their population but above their status in the economically poor category. Bahujan Activists started giving empirical evidence as to how the most important positions of power, privilege and wealth are cornered by the single caste denying equal opportunity to others. It is simply because of the policy of preferential treatment given to Brahmins as enshrined in Manudhrma. They cite that this is happening even though they have neglected their traditional duties noted in Chapter IV. IV .4.”He may subsist by Rita (truth), and Amrita (ambrosia), or by Mrita (death) and by Pramrita (what causes many deaths); or even by (the mode) called Satyanrita (a mixture of truth and falsehood), but never by Svavritti (a dog’s mode of life, ). IV.5. By Rita shall be understood the gleaning of corn; by Amrita, what is given unasked; by Mrita, food obtained by begging and agriculture is declared to be Pramrita.6. But trade and (money-lending) are Satyanrita, even by that one may subsist. Service is called Svavritti; therefore one should avoid it.”  Activists have come out with data to showpositions in the bureaucracy, the political executive and judiciary etcare held by a single caste, while unleashing violence and death on those who ask for equality of opportunity as per the Constitution, the modern Code of India. Thus, they claim that Manudharma is in operation today. They believe it is against the principles of Secularism.

Secularism, a term made popular by European scholars has always remained to be contradictory to Manudharma. Secularism has been defined by some as separation of state from religion.  The national secular society of the UK started by Charles Braudlaugh considers“the separation of religion and state is the foundation of secularism”. They indicate the principles of secularism which protect and underpin many of the freedoms we enjoy are:

  1. Separation of religious institutions from state institutions and a public sphere where religion may participate, but not dominate.
  2. Freedom to practice one’s faith or belief without harming others, or to change it or not have one, according to one’s own conscience.
  3. Equality so that our religious beliefs or lack of them doesn’t put any of us at an advantage or a disadvantage.

The above is the summary of the meaning and substance of Western concept of secularism. It has a long history of crusades, reformation, renaissance and French revolution to arrive at the common understanding of secularism. In other words Marx wrote, “Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and also the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people. To abolish religion as the illusory happiness of the people is to demand their real happiness…the criticism of religion is therefore in embryo the criticism of the vale of tears, the halo of which is religion.” In order to arrive at this in his ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s philosophy of Law’, Marx and Europe had experienced several bouts of reforms within religion. But, India had never experienced such overall reform or renaissance either in the ancient, medieval or modern period touching all the categories of people. Further, scholars trained in Western knowledge and the Hindu reformists did not look at the lower rungs of society adivasis, dalits and their converts in to other faiths looking at their mode of living and distress. Some scholars look at the concept rightly from political and social points of view do really miss this fundamental point that the experience of the Bahujans or majority is different from the West. The non-modern traditional scholars do also suffer from the same flaw. The belief systems of the Bahujans or Non-Dwija castes are quite different. More than ninety per cent of the population was never part of the mainstream Brahminical ritual status or are allowed to practice the rituals. We know the kind of penalties prescribed by Manu. Here are some penalties prescribed in proportion to their status are not uniform.

II.103.But he who does not (worship) standing in the morning, nor sitting in the evening, shall be excluded, just like a Sudra, from all the duties and rights of an Aryan. 137. Whatever man of the three (highest) castes possesses most of those five, both in number and degree, that man is worthy of honour among them; and (so is) also a Sudra who has entered the tenth (decade of his life).Vii.21. The kingdom of that monarch, who looks on while a Sudra settles the law, will sink (low), like a cow in a morass.VIII 279. With whatever limb a man of a low caste does hurt to (a man of the three) highest (castes), even that limb shall be cut off; that is the teaching of Manu.280. He, who raises his hand or a stick, shall have his hand cut off; he, who in anger kicks with his foot, shall have his foot cut off.371. If a wife, proud of the greatness of her relatives or (her own) excellence, violates the duty which she owes to her lord, the king shall cause her to be devoured by dogs in a place frequented by many.”

Therefore secularism or uniform policy as some modern protagonists of Manu argue has never been allowed. In fact the British brought the 1881 CrPC and were redrafted in 1974 and amended from time to time is secular where penalties are uniform irrespective of the caste. Yet, some activists claim that Manu dharma is still practiced in India as the proportion of undertrials to total is around 55 per cent only from dalits and muslims . In other words, the mainstream society is still under the control and regulation of Brahminical Hindutva and therefore need to be reformed to make India secular. It is common sense knowledge, they retort that it is easy to convert or make the (around) 5 per cent of the population ( Dwija) to join mainstream rather than reforming or converting the majority in to Hindutva through violence, lynching etc. even in the twenty first century. The demand for a uniform civil code can also be viewed from this perspective as it amounts to interfering of the state in religious practices of people who are in majority. In fact, the religious practices of Adivasi, dalit and service castes about 85 per cent of the population are not fundamental in nature as they go to a goddess under a tree and directly interact using his own language without a middleman. This is democratic and secular in nature rather than the Brahminical Hindutva practices of rituals of a minority community being projected by intellectuals and the functionaries, who come from the same social background making the reverse prescription. In fact as noted in the beginning, the use of a middleman, priest or purohit is a Mediterranean practice of Abrahamic faiths from which the Hindu fundamentals are drawn. In other words, secular India should look to the democratic practices of the so called lower castes of indigenous people in whose land all of us are subsisting.

K.S.Chalam a former vice-chancellor and author of Political Economy of Caste in India 2021 Sage and other books.

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