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Follow Up On Manusmriti To My Article In Outlook India

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Some persons have accused me of not addressing various issues in my recent article on OutlookIndia.com, titled, ACADEMIC HINDUPHOBIA.

I decided to focus on ONE aspect of the issue only, i.e. the fact that all religions are not being treated as equals by the California authorities, by the textbook publishers, by the American experts on South Asia, or by their Indian chelas who follow the white scholars in a bandwagon like the rats dancing behind Pied Piper.

Of course there are other aspects to the issue, including Manusmriti and the texts of other religions and of the Enlightenment. I am happy to be invited by major publishers to write on these issues in a separate article. Its up to them. I hereby also extend my offer to discuss/debate in other public forums with serious opponents, PROVIDED each side has equal opportunity to post with nobody blocking or privileging one side.

Those who consider themselves to be critical thinkers should discourage the name-calling and should facilitate serious debates focussing on the ISSUES. I was recently called by studients from UC Berkeley inviting me to debate Vijay Prashad on campus, which I instantly accepted. Unfortunately, they called me back to say that Vijay declined. Presumably, he prefers to hit-and-run behind my back in forums where I am not allowed to respond.

So to all those in the search for truth – please arrange level playing fields to debate the serious issues facing society. One-sided forums should be rejected. For the record, EVERY forum where I have written allows the public to post comments, and NONE of these forums are under any sort of control of mine or any group I belong to – these include Rediff, Outlook India, Sulekha, etc.  The same cannot be said of my critics.

Invitation to debate Prof. Madhav Deshpande or any other academician:

Meanwhile, here is my introductory point regarding Manusmriti, which I would be glad to debate further with serious opponents. I maintain, based on the following table, that Manusmriti does not define Hinduism in the same sense as Bible/Quran define those respective religions:

 Vedas

 Upanishads

 Gita

Puranas 

Bhajans

Sect/Guru

Specific

Teachings

Manusmriti

Rituals

 Yes

Yes

No 

Philosophy

Yes 

 Yes

Yes 

Yes

No 

Morals &

Ethics

Yes 

Yes 

Yes

No 

Narratives

of past

Yes 

Yes

No 

Devotion

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Comprehensive

“Religion”

Yes

No

The above table does not try to be complete but tries to highlight the principle ways in which Hindus use their variety of texts.

I can confidently say that in my religious upbringing I never came across any Hindu who got up in the morning reading Manusmriti to guide his actions. It is simply not what academicians have made it out to be. Hindus are guided by the other sources mentioned above. The main group of individuals who study Manusmriti today are Indologists.

The second last column is especially interesting. Each sect/guru within Hinduism (e.g. Swaminarayan, Ramakrishna Mission, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sri Sri Ravi Shanker, etc, etc…) has its own complete systems integrations of components from various columns, offering a turnkey solution to its followers.

The table shows that there is no one canonized text as in the Abrahamic religions where shruti and smriti get collapsed into one fixed/rigid box in which the followers get locked for centuries to come.

Once the academicians understand the above, it becomes clear that Manusmriti cannot be called “Hindu Law” – a term given to it by the British in the 18th century. It was one of many dozens of smritis.

Each smriti regards itself to be a man-made construction for that time and place (which should make postmodernists very happy), and is to be superceded by other man-made constructions for other contexts. Today, Hinduism needs new smritis for this era, using all prior systems as guidelines but not as final by any means.

This flexibility in Hinduism as compared to the Abrahamic religions is the result of not being what I have called History-Centric. See my Sulekha article titled, Myth of Hindu Sameness, for details on this important principle. After that see my earlier Sulekha article, titled, Problematizing God’s Interventions in History, for further depth.

Bottom line: Let us by all means problematize Indian/Hindu society and let us work to remedy its flaws. There is a long tradition of such reformations from within without Iraq-style invasions or Colonialization or Imperialism by Western powers to bring “human rights” to us. Meanwhile, let us not force Manusmriti’s 6 abusive verses (out of nearly 2000), that are unfortunately abusive, as the be-all and end-all of Hinduism.

  • dilip varma

    Manusmriti is supposed to be written by Manu who was the king of his country then. It is just a set of rules for his people at that time. How can it be called as Hindu law? All other Smritis which have come after that have superceded Manusmriti.

    The latest Smriti which we are following is the Constitution of India, amended several times.