Archive for August, 2013

मनु स्मृति: The Assault on Shudras.

29 August 2013
“If the Sudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda , then his ears should be filled with (molten) lead; if he utters the Veda, then his tongue should be cut off.”
– Manusmriti”.
The above quote was put forward on a forum in a debate where there are unflinching believers in and defenders of the glory of the great ‘Sanatan Dharma’, and was contested by them. The person, who gave the quote and is usually well informed, cited an Ambedkar.Org as the source of his quote. If anyone cares to do a Google search, then literally hundreds of references are thrown up pointing to the above ‘offending code’. The person who provided the quote was challenged to show where it occurs in Manusmruti. That challenge went unmet. Incidentally, there is even a book (ISBN-81-7024-959-7), History of the Indigenous Indians, by T H P Cheutharassery, which reaffirms the existence of above offending quote on page 73, but also ‘luckily’ provides the reference, MS III-4 (Manusmruti, chapter III, verse 4).
Such an array of ‘evidence’ is usually enough to convince the most, especially when the ‘news’ is agreeable to one’s world view. Since I had been lulled into such ready credulity in the past, I was aware of the dangers it posed. This danger erupted violently in August 2012, when the internal migrants from the North-East were targeted in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad; and had made a lasting impression of the havoc it can wreak. I had then commented, “Another difficulty is the short attention spans of social media participants, who are mostly in the “breaking the news” mode. Add to this the fact that almost everyone accepts a message uncritically and credulously if it agrees with one’s “worldview”. A “worldview” that is the fulcrum around which one’s social media group revolves. Any news within this world becomes an  “instant hit” and a “gospel truth”, which is obligingly regurgitated without end”. This spurred my curiosity to investigate as to what is the truth. I discovered on the internet two copies of Manusmruti, one in Sanskrit and the other in English translation by G Buhler. I give the verse 4 of chapter III from both below.
गुरुणानुमतः स्नात्वा सामावृत्तो यथाविधी |
उद्वहेत द्विजो भार्यां सवर्णां लक्षणान्विताम ||४||”.
4. Having bathed, with the permission of his teacher, and performed according to the rule the Samavartana (the rite on returning home), a twice-born man shall marry a wife of equal caste who is endowed with auspicious (bodily) marks”.
I confess that I have extremely limited knowledge of संस्कृत language, but is enough to tell me that the above two quotes have lot more in agreement than what Cheutharassery’s translation of Verse 4 of Chapter III would have us believe. Despite careful perusal of the English translation of मनुस्मृति, I could not find any quote concerned with ‘memorization of वेद’ (Veda) that even remotely supported the meaning imputed to Manu regarding what punishment should be meted out to a शुद्र (Sudra) who dares to transgress the boundaries of Brahmin ordained Dharma. It looks pretty certain that this ‘quote’ doesn’t exist in Manusmruti, but that shouldn’t be construed to mean it doesn’t exist in any of the other Dharma Shastras such as Aushanas (औशनास), Yajnavalkya (याग्न्यवल्क्य), Baudhayana (बौधयान), Agni Purana (अग्निपुराण), Vashishta (वशिष्ट), or Suta Sanhita (सुतसंहिता). It is not impossible to believe that an erudite follower of Manu, who wholeheartedly accepted the graded inequality enshrined in Manusmruti which we will presently see, was motivated to do better than his teacher and make foolproof the system where he saw Manu had left some chinks. Does it mean that मनुस्मृति (literally, Manu’s Doctrine or The Law of Manu) or मानवधर्मशास्त्र (Code of Human Conduct) didn’t have graded pyramid of inequality, intolerance and violence? Of course it did have; and not only it had but glorified it to boot. However, does it give license to the critics of Manusmruti to play around with ‘truth’? I don’t think so. But if someone does think otherwise, then they need to answer, how are they then different than the Brahmins, who they call treacherous?
However, I ask readers to reserve their judgment before they have read the doctrine for themselves. In this post, for their convenience, I have provided both the English Translation of G Buhler and the original Sanskrit (the latter I couldn’t verify as to which version). Now I proceed to give first a quote (chapter VIII- verse 270) where the punishment of ‘cutting of the tongue’ is prescribed for a Sudra.
एकजातिद्विरजातीस्तु वाचा दारुणया क्षिपन् |
जीव्हायाः प्राप्नुयाच्छेदम जघन्यप्रभवो हि सः ||२७०||”. (page 71).
270. A 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”.
This quite clearly elucidates the barbaric punishment meted out for a mere verbal insult, and also the contempt in which the Sudra were held. Chapter XI codofies what are the don’ts (त्याज्य), sin (पातक), minor sin (उपपातक), major sin (महापातक), and anti-dotes (उपाय) for their ameliorations. The verse I want to quote now is listed at #66 in Sanskrit version and #67 in English version (possibly Buhler has used another version for his translation).
धान्यकुप्यपशुस्तेयं मद्यपस्त्रीनिषेवणम् |
स्त्रीशूद्रविटक्षत्रवधो नास्तिक्यं चोपपातकम् ||६६||”.
67. Stealing grain, base metals, or cattle, intercourse with women who drink spirituous liquor, slaying women, Sudras, Vaisyas, or Kshatriyas, and atheism, (are all) minor offences, causing loss of caste (Upapataka).”.
This verse holds slaying (murdering) of women, Sudras, Vaishyass, Kshatriya, and Atheists as minor offences that lead only loss of caste or demotion in the caste hierarchy. This is revealing about the inbuilt graded hierarchy concerning everything in human life enmeshed in the Dharma enunciated by Manusmruti. Brahmin is not to be slayed as he is the supreme among the living beings, though he can slay the rest but would just lose his caste-grade one notch. Kshtriya can slay anyone except the Brahmin, and likewise down the line with everyone looking down the pyramid, but never up. That leaves Sudra women right at the bottom of the heap, and Sudra men just a notch above them. Before we come to the full text of Manusmruti, I give a few choice selections of verses in English translation.
·        “CH1 V91: One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Sudra, to serve meekly even these (other) three castes”.
·        “CH2 V31: Let (the first part of) a Brahmana’s name (denote something) auspicious, a Kshatriya’s be connected with power, and a Vaisya’s with wealth, but a Sudra’s (express something) contemptible”.
·        “CH3 V13: It is declared that a Sudra woman alone (can be) the wife of a Sudra, she and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Vaisya, those two and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Kshatriya, those three and one of his own caste (the wives) of a Brahmana”.
·        “CH8 V21: The kingdom of that monarch, who looks on while a Sudra settles the law, will sink (low), like a cow in a morass. CH8 V22: That kingdom where Sudras are very numerous, which is infested by atheists and destitute of twice-born (inhabitants), soon entirely perishes, afflicted by famine and disease”.
·        “CH8 V267: A Kshatriya, having defamed a Brahmana, shall be fined one hundred (panas); a Vaisya one hundred and fifty or two hundred; a Sudra shall suffer corporal punishment”.
·        “CH8 V374: A Sudra who has intercourse with a woman of a twice-born caste (varna), guarded or unguarded, (shall be punished in the following manner): if she was unguarded, he loses the part (offending) and all his property; if she was guarded, everything (even his life)”.
·        “CH8 V413: But a Sudra, whether bought or unbought, he may compel to do servile work; for he was created by the Self-existent (Svayambhu) to be the slave of a Brahmana. CH8 V414: A Sudra, though emancipated by his master, is not released from servitude; since that is innate in him, who can set him free from it?”.
·        “CH9 V248: But the king shall inflict on a base-born (Sudra), who intentionally gives pain to Brahmanas, various (kinds of) corporal punishment which cause terror”.
·        “CH9 V335: (A Sudra who is) pure, the servant of his betters, gentle in his speech, and free from pride, and always seeks a refuge with Brahmanas, attains (in his next life) a higher caste”.
·        “CH10 V12: From a Sudra are born an Ayogava, a Kshattri, and a Kandala, the lowest of men, by Vaisya, Kshatriya, and Brahmana) females, (sons who owe their origin to) a confusion of the castes”.
·        “CH10 V129: No collection of wealth must be made by a Sudra, even though he be able (to do it); for a Sudra who has acquired wealth, gives pain to Brahmanas”.
·        “CH11 V13: (Or) the (sacrificer) may take at his pleasure two or three (articles required for a sacrifice) from the house of a Sudra; for a Sudra has no business with sacrifices”.
·        “CH11 V131: He who has slain a Sudra, shall perform that whole penance during six months (see V129), or he may also give ten white cows and one bull to a Brahmana”.
·        “CH11 V236: (The pursuit of sacred) knowledge is the austerity of a Brahmana, protecting (the people) is the austerity of a Kshatriya, (the pursuit of) his daily business is the austerity of a Vaisya, and service the austerity of a Sudra”.
For those who fondly believe that unlike sematic religions, especially Islam, the Sanatan Dharma doesn’t have ‘retributive justice’ practices, the CH8 V374 should come as a great shock, which shakes the whole foundation of who they believe they are. Here it ordains that a Sudra, who has penile intercourse with a woman of any of the other three higher castes, should lose his (offending) part and that can only mean the severance of his genitalia. This is apart from patently unequal corporal punishments prescribed to Sudra elsewhere as we saw in CH3 V270. Even the justice and penance system of मानवधर्मशास्त्र is a patently unjust graded hierarchy. The conclusion is inescapable that whichever way one looks at it, Manusmruti’s Dharma was loaded fully in favour of Brahmins, and then less so as one went down the ladder until the Vaishya, and for Sudra and women in general it became a veritable living hell. One shudders to think what treatment was meted out to those who were considered beyond the pale of four Varnas (वर्णाश्रमधर्म). That is ‘treatment’ of those who came to be called अतिशूद्र, who were not considered part of आर्यगण or वर्णाश्रमधर्म, and therefore, were not part of Sanatan Dharma or Sanatan Religion in any case. Since मानवधर्मशास्त्र did not apply to them, they were not even considered human (मानव) most likely.