Manusmriti or Manav Dharma Shastra is an ancient Indian text which is believed to be the first constitution in the world as it contains laws regarding society, its proceedings, relationships, etc. The laws of Manusmriti have been for long used as a deciding factor in various cases. Even today it plays a major role in panchayat judgments. In addition to that, at various instances, even the Supreme Court has quoted Manusmriti. Not only this, the laws of Manu have been in the centre of a plethora of controversies for its take on caste and women.
Manusmriti dehumanises women and levels down their position. In today’s world where women are headstrong and are striving for equal space in society, these laws limit their aspirations. Therefore, it is high time we know them and reject these laws from Manusmriti to be used.
Of the gamut of problematic things written in the text here we are highlighting 5 of the most unequal and demeaning laws.
5 Problematic Things From Manusmriti Against Women
1. Women Must Be Guarded
Chapter 9 in Manusmriti outlines the duty of a wife and a husband whether “they be united or separated.” The 15th law of it says, “Through their passion for men, through their mutable temper, through their natural heartlessness, they become disloyal towards their husbands, however quickly they may be guarded in this (world).”
Are women an object who must be controlled and guarded? Don’t they have a right over their life?
Do they always need constant surveillance? Laws like this curtail women’s growth and position in society. We need to get over such laws and such kind of thinking.
2. Women Ostracisation
Manusmriti has all rules for women, no matter how evil his husband is, it is she who is to be punished for everything. One of the laws of Manu says- “She who disrespects to (a husband) who is addicted to(some evil) passion, is a drunkard, or diseased, shall be deserted for three months (and be) deprived of her ornaments and furniture.” 9:78.
So here Manusmriti tries to lay down rules and regulations to be a ‘good’ wife. Moreover, it says no matter your husband is addicted to an evil passion, you are bound to respect him.
3. Women as seducers
Reducing women to derogatory standards has been done during various instances in the text. In the second chapter Manu writes, “It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason, the wise are never unguarded in the company of females.” (2:213)
Women according to them are responsible if a man feels sexually aroused and thus a man must never stay unguarded when he has females around because they are dangerous. Are women the so-called seducers? Manusmriti gives in the most unacceptable thoughts. But as a society even today women are held responsible for every injustice hurled at them. Whether it is rape or molestation or acid attack, the onus of the blame is transferred to her. In addition to that, we as a society neglect the root causes of everything around and Manusmriti is one such text which has been responsible for framing the mindsets of a large number of people. In the rural sectors, Manusmriti is the only constitution that they follow.
4. Women should fit in the standards
Manusmriti highlights the obsession with beauty, name, perfection, and societal status. Here are the words from chapter 3 law 8: “One should not marry women who have reddish hair, redundant parts of the body [such as six fingers], one who is often sick, one without hair or having excessive hair and one who has red eyes.” The very next law to this says, “One should not marry women whose names are similar to constellations, trees, rivers, those from a low caste, mountains, birds, snakes, slaves or those whose names inspire terror.”
Law 10 and 11 of chapter 3 says- “Wise men should not marry women who do not have a brother and whose parents are not socially well known.” (3:10)
“Wise men should marry only women who are free from bodily defects, with beautiful names, grace/gait like an elephant, moderate hair on the head and body, soft limbs and small teeth.” (3:11)
Traveling the long run and fighting so many injustices, this law of fitting in is still taken into consideration. If not in the urban sector, the rural sector is even now careful of taking these things into consideration.
5. Women Dehumanised
In chapter 3 verse 239 it is written, “A Kandala, a village pig, a cock, a dog, a menstruating woman, and a eunuch must not look at the Brahmanas while they eat.”
Menstruation was seen as an impurity back then and even now. Isn’t it high time for all of us to turn over a new leaf and reject these problematic laws of Manusmriti?