Manusmriti is neither anti-Dalit nor pro-Brahmin
The Manusmriti is a good example of how a sacred text is demonized, and through it the whole Sanatana Dharma has been put in the dock.
Slavery not only affects people financially and physically, but also handicaps them intellectually. One of the most serious consequences of slavery is that it degrades and corrupts the governed culturally and civilizationally. Generations of people are enslaved, both physically and culturally. The same phenomenon occurred with the Hindus, whose Sanatana culture was severely assaulted by foreign rulers before independence, and court historians and scholars after 1947 distorted the idea of Bharat for new generations. The Manusmriti is a good example of how a sacred text is demonized and through it the whole Sanatana Dharma has been put in the dock.
The Manusmriti, the oldest of the smritis, determined “varna” according to “talents, occupations and abilities rather than birth”. Manu says that a brahmin can become a shudra and vice versa depending on his characteristics, deeds and talents. Likewise, there can be an exchange between Kshatriyas and Vaishyas.
Ironically, nowadays the word “Manuvad” has a negative meaning. Brahmanism is also used as a synonym of Manuvad. In reality, people who denounce Manuvad are ignoring Manu or Manusmriti. In reality, the caste system for which Manusmriti and Manu are accused do not even mention the word caste.
The Manusmriti is a compendium of all the preparations made for the functioning of society. It is neither anti-Dalit nor pro-Brahmanism. Rather, it focuses solely on humans and human obligations. Manu does not consider anyone as a Dalit. The Dalit-related systems are a creation of the British and the left.
According to Manu’s arrangement, the highest rung is occupied by the Brahmins, followed by the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. The Manusmriti says that a Brahmin can become a Shudra and vice versa depending on his characteristics, deeds and talents. Similarly, such an exchange occurs between Kshatriya and Vaishya.
According to the law of Manu, if the offspring of a Brahmin is unsuitable, he is demoted to the fourth class, or Shudra, according to his suitability. Similarly, a Shudra progeny can obtain Brahmin status based on merit. There are several instances in our ancient civilization where a person rose from the ranks of Shudra or Kshatriya to become a Brahmin. Vishwamitra’s abilities enabled him to transition from Kshatriya to Brahmarshi. There are several examples in Indian history that refute Manu’s anti-dalit claims.
In summary, those who believe in humanism are “Manuwadis”.
The shudras were not forbidden to perform religious rituals and rites. By doing so, Manu clarified the authority of Shudras to pursue Dharma.
A Shudra was supposed to be pushed lightly, according to the Manusmriti. According to the penal code of Manu, the minimum punishment should be imposed on Shudras for offenses such as theft, and the culprit should bear the punishment in order to support the hypothesis that the bigger he is, the greater the punishment he receives is important. So, to a Shudra 8 times, 16 times to Vaishya, 32 times to Kshatriyas; the Brahman will be punished 64 times.
This explains that Manu was certainly not unfair to the Shudras.
According to Manusmriti, the first birth (a caste) is recorded when one is born (naturally) in the womb of the mother. According to Manu, there is also a second birth (Dvij). One is reborn when one is initiated into the Gayatri mantra or graduates.
The sacrament of initiation is called Upanayana or Yagyopavita Sanskar. This means that a child who goes for his education (with all the official religious procedures) is born a second time at the period stipulated in the Vedas to obtain wisdom. A boy who, intentionally or not, fails to win vidya according to one of the three varnas means a single born (a caste), a natural or a Shudra. Further, a person who fails to perform the mandated responsibilities and obligations of this varna while having received an education in any of the three varnas becomes a Shudra. Can a Shudra become a Dvij?
Once the Vedic rituals (Yajnopavita Sanskar) of a Shudra’s son begins with correct Vedic rites (meaning he is educated), he is given the titles of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas by virtue and actions. Maharishi Manu states that a Brahmin becomes a shudra according to his guna, karma, and merit, and vice versa. The same goes for Kshatriya and Vaishya.
During the Vedic period, there were four classes in the social order known as varnas. After being born into any clan, each child or person can embrace and acquire the attributes, deeds and talents of the preferred varna. In Manu’s social structure, everyone had an equal right to join any varna based on their credentials, regardless of their parents’ profession.
Not only individuals, but even an entire community have sometimes been demoted or promoted in the varna order based on their deed or performance. Several passages of mahabharata and the Manusmriti show how, for ignoring their obligatory obligations and for failing to undertake penance even when instructed by the Brahmins, some members of the Kshatriya community were nicknamed Shudras. Pundraka, Audra, Dravida, Kamboja, Yavana, Saka, Parda, Pahlava, Cheena, Kirata, Darda and Khasha are some of the names.
As the evidence mentioned above suggests, there is an urgent need to revise our ancient texts; we have to look at them from a decolonized point of view. The distortion of the Manusmriti is just one example of how our sacred texts have been twisted and reviled.
The author is a researcher, NIT Surat. The opinions expressed are personal.