Political Mileage? Experts Decode BJP-VCK Tussle Over Manusmriti
Tension erupted in Tamil Nadu after VCK chief called for a ban on Manusmriti, saying it denigrates women.
The Tamil Nadu BJP has locked horns with Lok Sabha MP and the chief of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) Thirumavalavan over his call for ban on Manusmriti and his views on Sanatana dharma.
In a protest held on 24 October, Thol Thirumavalavan sought a ban on the ancient book of laws, which is considered to be a code of conduct for Hindu society, stating it denigrates women. The BJP in turn staged protests accusing Thirumavalavan of making misogynistic remarks, resulting in tension in parts of the state.
On Tuesday, 27 October, actor-turned-politician Khushbu, who recently defected to the BJP, was detained by the police in Tamil Nadu's Chengalpattu district on her way to protest against Thirumavalavan.
But political experts in Tamil Nadu point out that this controversy is not merely a BJP-VCK tussle.
IS MANUSMRITI MERELY A POLITICAL AGENDA?
“It is a much larger issue which goes back hundreds of years to the gender and caste-based discrimination that is deeply entrenched in our society,” Kutti Revathi, a Dalit poet said.
“Every time we see people saying anything against social justice, protests happen. I always wonder how we waste time on reactionary politics. This is the first time we are seeing reform politics,” she added.
Some others pointed out that this could be just a move by VCK to gain political mileage for the upcoming Tamil Nadu Assembly elections in 2021.
Sumanth Raman, a political analyst, opined that this protest comes without any context and is nothing but a political agenda.
“All texts written centuries ago reflect a perspective of society that existed then. Now 4,000 years later, how can we judge what someone wrote then. It is not the law anywhere. It is not a holy book. It is a set of guidelines. All texts irrespective of religion has references that are considered misogynistic now. We should take what is good and leave out what is bad. To make this an issue and call for a ban seems like a clear agenda.”Sumanth Raman, Political Analyst
Speaking to The Quint, he said, “All religious texts have mentioned the varna system. But does that make it right? Does that make it acceptable ? If you want to disown a book because of such unacceptable concepts, then there are several major epics that need to banned.”
Commenting on the BJP’s move he said, “Khushbu's anger could be to get some political mileage, to be a true saffronite. I however, agree with her point of view of taking something irrelevant and making it an issue.”
But, Kutti Revathi disagrees.
“This is not just about Khushbu as Manusmriti has taken our country backward a lot. If she understood this, she would not have gone against Thirumavalavan. Manusmriti has contributed to sexism, how a family is viewed, how a woman is treated. This is being made into a political drama. But anyone commenting against Khushbu should not be seen as against a woman, but understood with the background of years of oppression,” she added.
BUT WHY IS IT BACK IN NEWS?
The controversy began when a video clip of the online speech given by Thirumavalavan on 27 September during a webinar organised by European Periyar Ambedkar Comrades’ Federation on ‘Periyar and Indian Politics’ went viral recently.
In the video clip, he is heard saying: “How are women, who form around half of the population, treated in Sanatana Dharma? How are they oppressed and taken advantage of for a long time? What does Sanatana Dharma say about women? Women were basically created by God as prostitutes. All women are prostitutes, as per Hindu dharma, Manu dharma.”
Thirumavalavan and other VCK leaders like MLA Ravikumar have tweeted translations of the Manusmriti in support of their interpretation, seeking a ban on the text.
The Manusmriti has often been criticised by anti-caste activists and feminists for its views on women and caste, among other issues.
“I had not criticised any women of any culture. VCK and I fight for the rights of the marginalised sections, particularly women, Dalits and minorities. And I still maintain that Manu Dharma denigrates women,” he said in an interview to Huffington Post.
BJP’S KHUSHBU SUNDAR vs VCK’S THOL THIRUMAVALAVAN
Addressing reporters at the state BJP headquarters, Kamalalayam, popular actor-politician Khushbu Sundar said ‘women cannot be objectified’ and claimed that Thirumavalavan was ‘using religion’ against them.
"He is a political party leader and should be aware of what he is saying...women cannot be objectified... you should apologise," she said, pointing that there are women in his family too.
The BJP’s women's wing also called for protests across Tamil Nadu.
Thirumavalavan, however, said that none of his remarks targeted women.
“I said that the Manusmriti demeans women. But those with an eye on political mileage, a casteist-communal group is spreading falsehood against me and creating an impression as if I spoke against women.”VCK Chief Thirumavalavan in a video uploaded on his Twitter page
He announced state-wide protests by his party on Saturday against the Manusmriti, calling for its ban in Tamil Nadu.
WHAT ABOUT THE PROTESTS?
On Tuesday morning, 27 October, Khushbu and her supporters were stopped by the police near Chennai’s Muttukadu while they were on their way to Chidambaram via the East Coast Road (ECR) and took them into preventive custody. They were planning to participate in a protest on Tuesday against the Lok Sabha Member of Parliament for his comments on Manusmriti.
After being detained, Khushbu tweeted from her official handle that they will not bow down. “Cowards #VCK. Don't rejoice. It's your failure. Arrested bcoz they know we are a force to reckon with. We will not bow down. @BJP4India @narendramodi Ji shall take every step to ensure the respectability of every daughter of this soil. Darpoks VCK, respecting a woman is alien to you (sic),” she tweeted.
The Tamil Nadu police also lathi-charged members of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), who attempted to protest in front of a private location where Khushboo was detained. VCK members were forced to disperse by the police.
According to reports, the protest by VCK was unexpected and took place near Kelambakkam.
VCK, which has two MPs including Thirumavalavan, is part of the Secular Progressive Alliance in Tamil Nadu led by the DMK.
NETIZENS CALL FOR THIRUMAVALAVAN’S ARREST
The Chennai police booked the MP on Friday based on a complaint from a BJP cadre. Charges were filed under sections 153, 153 (A)(1)(a), 295 A, 298, 505 (1)(b) and 505 (2) of the Indian Penal Code.
VCK has been protesting the ideology of Manusmriti since the 1990s. Dr B R Ambedkar on 25 December 1927 had burnt the Manusmriti (at Mahad Satyagraha) alleging that the script discriminated people on the basis of gender, caste and work.
Several took to social media to condemn the arrest of Khushbu and demanded that the VCK chief be arrested.
Singer Chinmayi Sripaada took to Twitter to remind that the VCK leaders has openly supported lyricist Vairamuthu who has been accused of sexual harassment by the singer.
“As the majority of those who stand shoulder to shoulder with Mr Thol Thirumavalavan magically fall silent when I ask why he aligns with Mr Vairamuthu - Stop yourself the next time a party / person / ideology you hate speaks about women’s safety. #YouAreAllTheSame,” her tweet read.
(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)
Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter And Get News Delivered Straight To Your Inbox.