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In Defence of Manu Statue in Rajasthan High Court

By Ramachandran

There was an article in Live Law, titled, Caste and The Statue of Manu in Rajasthan High Court, written by Anurag Bhaskar, who is said to be a law lecturer. The  article argued that the statue of Manu should be removed from the Rajasthan High Court premises.

The statue of Manu in the premises of Rajasthan High Court’s Jaipur bench— according to Hindu mythology, the progenitor of mankind and the author of the Manusmriti, which codifies the rights and duties of various social groups — has seen its share of skirmishes. On October 8, 2018, two women from Aurangabad in Maharashtra — Sheela Bai Pawar, 35, and Kanta Ramesh Ahire, 32 — were arrested along with their associate Dawood Shakeel Sheikh, 30, for smearing it with black paint.  

The two were taken into custody and booked under sections of the Indian Penal Code for hurting religious sentiments, among other charges. They were then sent to Jaipur Central jail, 5 kilometres away, before being granted bail on October 22.

Pawar, Ahire and Sheikh are members of the Republican Party of India-Kharat, a breakaway faction of the Republican Party of India (Athawale).

That day, one of the two sari-clad women clambered on to the statue’s pedestal with a can of black paint, stretched out her arms and sprayed all over Manu’s torso. The other woman, standing on the ground, aimed for Manu’s legs.

Yogesh Salve, another member of the RPI-Kharat who accompanied the two women and Sheikh to Jaipur, asked then:”How can one expect justice if the statue of Manu, a person whose views on women and Dalits were discriminatory, is placed in the court?”

For the past three decades, though it was never formally inaugurated, this statue of Manu has seen several battles — big and small, in courts and outside.

It all began on February 10, 1989, when Padam Kumar Jain, then president of the Rajasthan Higher Judicial Officers’ Association, wrote a letter to then chief justice N M Kasliwal, asking for permission to install a Manu idol on the court premises as part of a “beautification project”. The permission was granted on March 3.

Sandeep Sumahendra, son of the late Sumahendra Sharma, the Rajasthani artiste who worked on the statue, says, “It took my father around two and a half months to build the statue. Until then, there was no other Manu statue, so nobody had any idea what Manu looked like. My father designed it on the basis of his imagination and after reading Manu’s works. Like many of my father’s works on display in Jaipur, including one of Lady Justice at the district and sessions court, this Manu statue is made of cement.”

Sumahendra, who was a student then, remembers how the statue was jinxed from the start. “On the day of the planned inauguration, a large crowd had gathered inside the campus. I remember making a hurried exit with my father as we didn’t want to be part of any controversy. Then acting chief justice Milap Chand Jain was supposed to inaugurate the statue, but it was never done.On July 28, 1989, in a full court meeting of the Rajasthan High Court, the judges unanimously decided that the statue would be removed. But just as it was about to taken down, VHP leader Acharya Dharmendra and others filed a PIL against the move.

“Hate was brought to India by the British, along with Islamic and Communist ideology. There is no mention of hate and discrimination in the philosophy of Manu, and therefore, the burning of Manusmriti is like setting fire to all of humanity,” said Dharmendra.

“It was a great idea to have a Manu statue inside the High Court as he was the first person anywhere in the world to draft a law. Those who oppose him are ignorant of Manu’s philosophy. He never mentions the word ‘Dalit’ anywhere,” he added.

Smearing black paint on the statue.

Vibhutibhushan Sharma, former president of the Rajasthan High Court Bar Association who was later made a member of the manifesto committee of the Congress for the Rajasthan elections, said, “When the statue of Manu was installed in the High Court, it wasn’t for any particular caste. Manu is regarded as the first person to have come up with a written law. If there is any downside to that law, it is open to amendments as is done in our Constitution. The statue shouldn’t be associated with any caste.”

In August 1989, while hearing Dharmendra’s petition, the High Court stayed the removal of the statue and ordered that future hearings will be before a bench of more than two judges, including the chief justice.

That’s where the matter lies now. Many in judicial circles refer to the case as the oldest writ petition pending in the High Court.

“Throughout the 1990s and the 2000s, Dalit leaders such as Kanshi Ram and Ramdas Athawale came to Jaipur and protested against the statue.

A K Jain, who appeared as a lawyer for Dalit groups during the last hearing of the case in 2015, recounts the commotion that day. “The court was more of a battleground. Almost 300 to 400 Brahmin lawyers, including office bearers of different bar associations of Jaipur, got together. As I started reading lines from the Manusmriti that are offensive to Dalits, these lawyers started protesting and we were hardly able to speak,” said Jain.

That was the last time this writ was listed for hearing.

Ambedkar had burned Manusmriti in 1927.

The statue of Manu is there as the first codifier of Hindu law, which is part of Indian culture. Manu has always criticised by feminist groups, for the statement, Na Sthree Swathanthryam Arhathi ( The woman desn’t deserve Fredom).

There had been such contextual statements gainst women by great writers in the world, including Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare to Sri Narayana Guru and Changampuzha Krishna Pillai in Southern India. European culture abound in statements against slaves and women. In the Sivasathakam of Narayana Guru, there are atleast 20 slokas that can be termed anti women.He has said women are there to attract and destroy men. Changampuzha wrote, women are the roots of gloabal calamity and the hell of fire.

Aristotle said,”Man is to woman is, Master is to Slave”.

There is no role for women in Plato’s Republic.

It is notorious that Athens in the fifth and fourth centuries SC combined pride in its democratic institutions with slave ownership and male dominance. In general, these latter institutions were matter neither for pride nor for apology. They were taken for granted. Both were indeed ubiquitous in the world the Athenians knew. It is also notorious that Aristotle was an apologist of both slavery and male supremacy. 

Aristotle says that if there are whole nations of natural masters and other nations of natural slaves, slave wars are justified. This, he says, is what explains the claim by the Greek poets that “Greeks should not enslave Greeks”— they think Greeks should enslave barbarians, who are natural slaves ( Politics) .

In Politics,Chapter 12, after the discussion of business expertise has been completed, Aristotle returns to the subject of household rule, and takes up the question of the proper forms of rule over women and children. As with the master’s rule over the slave, and humanity’s rule over plants and other animals, Aristotle defines these kinds of rule in terms of natural hierarchies: “[T]he male, unless constituted in some respect contrary to nature, is by nature more expert at leading than the female, and the elder and complete than the younger and incomplete”. 

This means that it is natural for the male to rule: “The relation of male to female is by nature a relation of superior to inferior and ruler to ruled. And just as with the rule of the master over the slave, the difference here is one of reason: “The slave is wholly lacking the deliberative element; the female has it but it lacks authority; the child has it but it is incomplete”.

Aristotle places the rule of male over female in the household in the context of the husband over the wife.Female children who had not yet been married would have been ruled by their father. Marriage for girls in Athens typically took place at the age of thirteen or fourteen.  

It had also been the case in Manu’s India-females were married early,and were ruled by men.Aristotle gave women no role in politics.

Aristotle has very little to say about what women’s virtues look like, how they are to be achieved, or how women should be educated. But it is clear that Aristotle believes that as with the master’s superiority to the slave, the man’s superiority to a woman is dictated by nature and cannot be overcome by human laws, customs, or beliefs.  

Shakespeare in Hamlet said,Frailty,thy name is Woman!

Swadessbhimani Ramakrishna Pillai, an Editor in Kerala in the 1910-1912 period had wrote an editorial which said the dalits doesn’t have the right to study alongwith the Hindu elite in the same class room,since their brain hasn’t developed to match the elite.The dalits are just buffaloes in comparison with the elite,who are horses,he wrote.But Pillai is in the good books the Marxists and pseudo secularists,becuase he wrote a pamphlet on Marx,in 1912 which was actually a copy of Lala Hardayal’s article,which was published in the Modern Revciew,four months ago.

Pillai’s statue is still there in the Kerala capital.

Since Manu is the first law giver,his statue should be there,not only in the court premises of Rajasthan,it should be there in all the court premises in India.

If you want to remove it you can-but remove statues of Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare and the like before you do it; burn their books,while you burn Manusmrithi.

( Ramachandran was Political Correspondent of Malayala Manorama, News Editor, The Week, and Chief Editor, Janmabhumi.)

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