• IASbaba
  • August 27, 2022
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History and Art and Culture
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In News: The Vice Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University recently criticised the Manusmriti, the ancient Sanskrit text, over its gender bias.

  • VC said that the Manusmriti has categorised all women as “shudras”, which is “extraordinarily regressive”.

What is Manusmriti?

  • The Mānavadharmaśāstra, also known as Manusmriti or the Laws of Manu, is a Sanskrit text belonging to the Dharmaśāstra literary tradition of Hinduism.
  • Composed between the 2nd century BCE and 3rd century CE, the Manusmriti is written in sloka verses, containing two non-rhyming lines of 16 syllabus each.
  • The text is attributed to the mythical figure of Manu, considered to be ancestor of the human race in Hinduism.

What is the text about?

  • It covers the subjects such as the social obligations and duties of the various castes and of individuals in different stages of life, the suitable social and sexual relations of men and women of different castes, on taxes, the rules for kingship, on maintaining marital harmony and the procedures for settling everyday disputes.
  • The text is about dharma, which means duty, religion, law and practice.
  • It also discusses aspects of the Arthashashtra, such as issues relating to statecraft and legal procedures.

What is its significance?

  • By the early centuries of the Common Era, Manu had become, and remained, the standard source of authority in the orthodox tradition for that centrepiece of Hinduism, varṇāśrama-dharma.
  • It was a very significant text for Brahmin scholars — it attracted 9 commentaries by other writers of the tradition, and was cited by other ancient Indian texts far more frequently than other dharmaśāstra.
  • It was the first Sanskrit text to be translated into a European language, by the British philologist Sir William Jones in 1794.
  • Subsequently, it was translated into French, German, Portuguese and Russian, before being included in Max Muller’s edited volume, Sacred Books of the East in 1886.

Why is it controversial?

The ancient text has 4 major divisions:

  1. Creation of the world.
  2. Sources of dharma.
  3. The dharma of the four social classes.
  4. Law of karma, rebirth, and final liberation.
  • The text is deeply concerned with maintaining the hierarchy of the four-fold varna system and the rules that each caste has to follow.
  • According to it the Brahmin is assumed to be the perfect representative of the human race, while Sudras, who are relegated to the bottom of the order, are given the sole duty of serving the ‘upper’ castes.
  • Some verses also contain highly prejudicial sentiments against women on the basis of their birth.

On December 25, 1927, Dr B R Ambedkar had famously burned the Manusmṛiti, which he saw as a source of gender and caste oppression.

Source: Indian Express

Previous Year Question

Q.1) According to Kautilya’s Arthashastra, which of the following are correct? (2022)

  1. A person could be a slave as a result of a judicial punishment.
  2. If a female slave bore her master a son, she was legally free.
  3. If a son born to a female slave was fathered by her master, the son was entitled to the legal status of the master’s son.

Which of the statements given above are correct?

  1. 1 and 2 only
  2. 2 and 3 only
  3. 1 and 3 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

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