The Hindu religious text, Manusmriti, believed to have been penned 3,000 years ago, has taken political centrestage in Tamil Nadu sharply polarising parties on either side of the divide, barely months before the 2021 Assembly election.
It all began with the state BJP recently circulating a 40-second video clip from a virtual address delivered by Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader and MP Thol Thirumavalavan in a European rationalist forum, in which he interpreted Manusmriti to have denigrated women to be “prostitutes”.
Seizing the opportunity, actor Kushboo, who recently quit the Congress and joined the BJP, accused Thirumavalavan, a prominent Dalit leader, of insulting all Hindu women and needlessly raking up a religious text no longer in use. Over the last few days, the party has been staging protests, accusing the VCK leader of being anti-women. A case was filed against Thirumavalavan in Chennai.
Since the VCK is an ally of the DMK, by extension, the BJP has been seeking to portray the DMK itself as “anti-Hindu”. The saffron party’s stand is not only does the Manusmriti denigrate women as prostitutes but it is is no longer in vogue as India is bound by the “Constitution drafted by Ambedkar.”
However, far from being cowed down by the attack, the VCK and even the DMK and its other allies — Congress and MDMK, have launched a counter attack accusing BJP of supporting the Manusmriti, which they said not only relegated women as second class citizens but propagated the ‘varnashrama’. The VCK, in fact, has announced a campaign seeking a ban on Manusmriti.
Curiously both the BJP and the VCK see the ongoing controversy as a political jackpot in an election season.
“Already the DMK is on the backfoot on the Kanda Shasti Kavasam (a hymn hailing Lord Muruga, denigrated by a little known rationalist group) issue where it has been forced to say it is not anti-Hindu, a significant departure from its earlier position of being a rationalist party. Remember, former DMK leader M Karunanidhi had once called the Hindus ‘thieves’, but now his party is saying majority of its cadres are Hindus. Now Thirumavalavan’s interpretation of the Manusmriti has provided us a fresh weapon to sharpen our attack on the DMK, the VCK’s ally,” said a senior BJP leader.
“Our plan is to tell the people the DMK has been harbouring all sorts of political characters who have been denigrating Hindus and Hindu women,” he added.
On the contrary, a VCK leader said, “The more the BJP tries to defend Manusmriti, the better for us. It will only bring together all rationalist and secular forces and strengthen our bond with the DMK. The people of Tamil Nadu will not accept what is advocated by Manusmriti.”