Today, 25th December which is celebrated across the world as Christmas is also the day when Dr. B.R. Ambedkar carried out the burning of Manusmriti.
The Manusmriti is an ancient Hindu religious text that dictated the role and functions of different caste divisions within the society.
Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu were considered archaic and regressive by Baba Saheb Ambedkar and many intellectuals of his time. The laws laid by Manu were to keep lower castes and women subjugated and enslaved. The laws stated extremely harsh punishments for those who violate the laws. The laws were created to maintain “caste purity” and caste order through control of women and Shudras.
Manusmriti also reveals how subjugation of women was key to maintain the rigid caste hierarchy. That is why Baba Saheb Ambedkar suggested intercaste marriage as a way for the annihilation of caste.
Ambedkar held Manusmriti responsible for the caste system in India. It was on 25th Dec 1927 along with the entire town of Mahad in Konkan- a coastal region of Maharashtra that Ambedkar burnt copies of the Manusmriti.
This act of protest had created troubling ripples across the Hindu society. Burning its way to the liberation of all the downtrodden in a nation gripped by the evil of caste in the country.
#Dec25: The day on which Revolutionary Dr. Ambedkar burnt the anti-people Laws of Manu.
On 25 December 1927, he sowed the seeds for a social revolution by burning the Manusmriti which divided the people by fabricating hierarchy & inequality based on birth.
— Thol. Thirumavalavan (@thirumaofficial) December 25, 2020
How and Why Did the Movement Begin?
For the longest time, the dominant castes of the area had illegally monopolized the local water source and denied it to Dalits in Maharashtra. It enraged Dr. Ambedkar, who knew this was against the law, and so he had launched the Mahad Satyagraha.
The Satyagraha was a procession lead by Dr. Ambedkar on March 20, 1927, where almost 2,500 Dalits marched to the Mahad Tank and break the monopoly by reclaiming the water source they had been denied for so long.
The dominant castes retaliated through brute force. This lead Dr. Ambedkar to set an example by condemning the root cause of all the problems.
And so on 25th December, Dr.Ambedkar along with six to seven other men gathered around a pyre to burn the Manusmriti– a text that was given great regard at the time. One of the men gathered around was a Brahmin- Gangadhar Neelkant Sahasthrabuddhe, along with other Dalit leaders like PN Rajabhoj. This day would be later commemorated as Manusmriti Dahan Divas.
Such a measure invited much criticism from Hindus, to whom Ambedkar justified his decisions by reminding them how burning objects have always been significant at protests- taking the example of Gandhi’s advice to burn all foreign items.
What Makes Manusmriti regressive?
A superficial reading of smriti would make it clear how the text codifies how different castes should behave in society and any deviation from the text should be punished heavily. The text ordains all kinds of freedom to men from upper castes while the women and Shudras were accorded the status of slave and always in service of the upper caste men.
Some of the verses have stated the following about women:
- “Swabhav ev narinam …..” – 2/213. It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females.
- “Avidvam samlam………..” – 2/214. Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man. Both become slaves of desire.
- “Matra swastra ………..” – 2/215. Wise people should avoid sitting alone with one’s mother, daughter or sister. Since carnal desire is always strong, it can lead to temptation.
- “Naudwahay……………..” – 3/8. One should not marry women who has reddish hair, redundant parts of the body [such as six fingers], one who is often sick, one without hair or having excessive hair and one who has red eyes.
- “Uchayangh…………….” – 3/11. Wise men should marry only women who are free from bodily defects, with beautiful names, grace/gait like an elephant, moderate hair on the head and body, soft limbs and small teeth.
And against Dalits:
- One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Sudras, to serve meekly even these (other) three castes. (I/91)
- Once-born man (a Sudra), who insults a twice-born man with gross invective, shall have his tongue cut out; for he is of low origin. (VIII/270)
- If he mentions the names and castes (jati) of the (twice-born) with contumely, an iron nail, ten fingers long, shall be thrust red-hot into his mouth. (VIII/271)
- If he arrogantly teaches Brahmanas their duty, the king shall cause hot oil to be poured into his mouth and into his ears. (VIII/272)
- 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. (VIII/280)
Thol. Thirumavalavan, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi(VCK) and Lok Sabha member from Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, called for a State-wide protest in Tamil Nadu in the month of October against the regressive Manusmriti.
“It portrays women in a bad light. It states that a particular ‘varna’ or caste does not have the right to live. This is why Ambedkar burnt the Manusmriti in 1927 and exposed its inhumanity in many of his books,” Thirumavalavan said.
The fire that Manu started
Burnt the huts of Venmani
Snatched the lives of Dalits.
Revolutionary Ambedkar’s fire
Will set fire to Sanatana
Will forge equality.
From the ashes of Venmani
Our sacrifices will begin
Our politics of liberation
Will march forward. pic.twitter.com/XcrAK4qXhE
— Thol. Thirumavalavan (@thirumaofficial) December 25, 2020
Manusmriti also reveals how the subjugation of women was key to maintain the rigid caste hierarchy. That is why Baba Saheb Ambedkar suggested intercaste marriage as a way for the annihilation of caste.
According to a 2016 report from the National Council of Applied Economic Research, a New Delhi-based think-tank only 5% of Indian marriages are intercaste. This breaks all the claims of improvement in the status of women and freedom. Despite the passage of centuries most Indians still marry within caste and inter-caste and inter-faith marriages are not only discouraged but punished by family and society at large.
Although it has been argued time and again that the Manusmriti is no longer used as a reference and does not dictate lifestyle anymore, more careful observation of the systems in place might beg to differ.
The Love Jihad law that has been passed in Uttar Pradesh is one such example. While at the surface it may seem like a law meant to safeguard women, it is nothing but another method to control a woman’s choice of partner, and while doing so, to also punish minorities and oppressed castes for daring to fall in love with someone who is not from a similar background as them.
The CAA-NRC law is yet another method to alienate the oppressed castes, keep them at the margins, preventing them from attaining equal opportunities, and subjecting them to inhumane conditions and torture.
The most recent Beef Ban, which has been passed in many states including Maharashtra and Karnataka also finds its roots in the caste system. By denying citizens the right to choose of food, and by making slaughter illegal, the government has further deepened the divide by taking away nutrition and livelihood.
It also has allowed for the rise of cow vigilante and Hindutva groups that have been increasingly attacking the marginalized communities through false allegations.