Manusmriti: Why the ancient text continues to stir controversy

Manusmriti, Manusmriti book, copy, debate
Manusmriti, the ancient text, whose exact origins are attributed to Manu—who is believed to be the first man and lawgiver during 5th century BC—is a discourse on the roles and moral codes to be observed by different sections of the society | Image - Prathap Ravishankar

Sometime in the afternoon of March 13, 2016, a group of men jumped out of two bikes on a market road in Udumalpet in Tiruppur district of Tamil Nadu and brutally hacked a young couple with machetes until they were motionless.

While the man, Shankar, succumbed to injuries, his wife, Kausalya, survived. Shankar was a Dalit and Kausalya belonged to a backward community (considered superior to Dalits, according to the Hindu caste system). Their love marriage was opposed by Kausalya’s family, especially her father, B Chinnaswamy, who was accused of masterminding the attack.

Chinnaswamy, who was later acquitted of all charges by the Madras High Court, may not have read the ancient Hindu text Manusmriti or may have been unaware of what it says. But he seemed to firmly believe that an ‘upper caste’ woman is restricted from marrying someone from the ‘lower caste’, much like the Manusmriti says.

“According to Manusmriti, women of lower caste can marry men belonging to the upper caste but upper caste women cannot marry men belonging to the lower caste. If they do so, the child born to the inter-caste couple will become untouchable,” says Aadhavan Dheetchanya, a writer.

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