Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  

Women and the Laws of Manu

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

Women and the Laws of Manu

source: www.swami.org

posted Feb 15 2008


"While Manusmriti stresses socio-religious life, it does so with a

view to help qualify humanity for the pursuit of essential

spirituality. Thus there is a thread of spiritual truth that runs

through it that applies to all times."


Question: I read some really horrible things from a Hindu book called the

Manusmriti [Manu-samhita], which contains the class-conscious rules of

varnasrama dharma. One of the most egregious of these rules is that

women should never be given freedom. They are meant to be always under

the control of men. Furthermore, I read that Srila Prabhupada is among

the few modern gurus who accept this book as authoritative. When I read

all this I became so terribly sad as I had the greatest belief in

Prabhupada, but now this belief is shattered. My question is how any

person with a conscience can accept this frightful book as

authoritative? Do you accept Manusmriti as authoritative?




Answer: Thought to be the oldest of the dharma-sastras, the Manusmriti is

often described as the law book of ancient Hindu society. The text

deals with four subjects: the origin of the world, the sources of

dharma, the rules of the four varnas (social orders) and four asramas

(spiritual orders), and karma-yoga. The laws found therein are

obviously not modern. Thus to be fair, they should not be compared to

modern laws, but rather to socio-religious rules that pertain to an

ancient culture.


The laws of Manu made sense to religious people living centuries ago in

India, and if we had lived in that bygone culture it is unlikely that

we would have found the text unacceptable. Nor would adherence to its

essential precepts have inhibited our spiritual progress. Why? Because

for the most part dharma-sastras such as Manusmriti address relative

socio-religious concerns, and true spirituality transcends such

concerns. However, while Manusmriti stresses socio-religious life, it

does so with a view to help qualify humanity for the pursuit of

essential spirituality. Thus there is a thread of spiritual truth that

runs through it that applies to all times. Ultimately this thread is

what was important to Srila Prabhupada, Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath

Tagore, Paramahansa Yogananda, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (a former

president of India), and other spiritual and religious leaders who

often spoke highly of the text. Even Nietzsche said, "Put down the

Bible and pick up Manusmriti." (The Will to Power, Vol.1)




Though Srila Prabhupada more readily identified with social standards

of times gone by, some of which fit better with the words of

Manusmriti, in practice he embraced whatever in his judgment was

helpful for performing and disseminating Krsna bhakti, some of which

did not conform to the injunctions of the dharma-sastras. That some of

Manusmriti's centuries-old injunctions do not resonate with people

living in our times is to be expected. For that matter, no Hindus today

adhere to the text more than in some small part, and most scholars

believe that the laws of Manu were never universally enforced anywhere

in India.


Still, practically all Hindu historians and teachers accept its

authenticity in the same sense that Srila Prabhupada did, as one of the

authentic texts of the Hindu dharma-sastras. In doing so they promote

what they consider appropriate in Manusmriti and more or less disregard

the rest. The founder of Arya Samaj, Swami Dayanand Saraswati, a

noteworthy 19th century campaigner for women's rights, cites Manu's

laws hundreds of times in his writings. In his opinion, verses highly

critical of women and the lower classes (sudras) are not Vedic at all

but interpolations introduced later by the corrupted brahminical class.

Another scholar, Dr. Surendra Kumar, claims that out of a total of

2,685 verses in the present Manusmriti, only 1,214 are authentic or can

be confirmed by the Vedas, the other 1,471 being interpolations.


Therefore, in consideration of its overall content and the culture in

which it was written, it would be inappropriate for a Hindu to

disrespect Manusmriti in its entirety. Better one should try to

understand it in terms of its historicity and its spirituality, knowing

full well that religious laws are often relative to time and

circumstance. Indeed, many injunctions in our times accepted as

appropriate by the religious and secular alike will likely be

considered inappropriate by future generations.


By contrasting the Manusmriti with books and beliefs from other ancient

cultures, one can see that it is hardly unique in its strictures

against women. For example, in classical Athens, the city heralded as

the birthplace of democracy, women took no part in the democratic

process. After marriage they were largely confined to the women's

section of the house and were forbidden to eat with or speak to men

other than their husbands. The Minnesota State University Museum tells

it like this: "The status of Athenian woman in Greek society was

minimal. By comparison to present-day standards, Athenian women were

only a small step above slaves by the 5th century B.C." About teaching

women to read and write, the Greek playwright Menander wrote, "What a

terrible thing to do! Like feeding a vile snake on more poison." Other

authors and philosophers had similar quips about women. Summing up the

Athenian view of women, Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle,

student of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great, wrote, "The male is

by nature superior and the female inferior...the one rules and the other

is ruled."


Therefore, as we appreciate the positive contribution of other ancient

books and leave aside the rest, we should similarly appreciate the

Manusmriti. In this light, the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is no

friend of Hinduism, says: "Yet, with all this [restrictions on women,

etc.], the ethical teachings of the 'Laws of Manu' is very high,

embracing almost every form of moral obligation recognized in the

Christian religion."




Furthermore, although Manusmriti, like other patriarchal religious law

books of its time, does prescribe the subservience of women to men, it

condemns men who are derelict in their duty to care for and protect the

women under their jurisdiction. Manu also glorifies women considerably,

and taken in context with his rules to honor and never violate women,

his laws pertaining to them seem progressive in comparison to those of

many other ancient cultures. For example, Manusmriti (3:55-57) says,

"Those who seek great prosperity and happiness should never inflict

pain on women. Where women are honored, in that family great men are

born, but where they are not honored, all acts are fruitless. Where

women pass their days in misery and sorrow because of the misdeeds of

their husbands, that family soon entirely perishes, but where they are

happy because of the good conduct of their husbands, the family

continually prospers."


Most importantly, Sri Krsna explains in Srimad Bhagavatam (11.20.9)

that one is obliged to adhere to the smriti of the dharma-sastra only

to the extent that one has not awakened faith in hearing and chanting

about him. This is also the conclusion of Bhagavad-gita as Krsna

emphatically tells us therein to forego the dharma-sastra and take

exclusive shelter of him: sarva dharman parityaja mam ekam saranam

vraja (Bg 18.66).


Thus a soul surrendered to Krsna (saranagata) need not be concerned

with dharma-sastra. One serious about Krsna bhakti need only be

concerned with the smriti of the Vaisnavas, such as Hari-bhakti-vilasa.

Furthermore, this should be done under the guidance of a guru competent

to advise one which injunctions therein apply to one's situation. No

sect of Gaudiya Vaisnavas that I know of follows all the injunctions of

Hari-bhakti-vilasa. Rather than trying to follow everything in

Hari-bhaki-vilasa verbatim, one should under good guidance extract its

essential principles and apply them to life in the modern world

according to time and circumstance.


As Gaudiya Vaisnavas are taught to take the essence from

Hari-bhakti-vilasa, those treading the karma-marg should be encouraged

to embrace the essence of Manusmriti's injunctions rather than try to

follow the letter of its law, which would be impossible to do in

today's world anyway. For that matter, in essence the dharma-sastra

ultimately points in the direction of Hari-bhakti, for the perfection

of adherence to dharma is determined by the extent to which such

adherence satisfies Hari (God): samsiddhir hari tosanam.


Finally, regarding varnasrama dharma, it is not about taking away

people's freedom. It is ultimately about freeing people from material

existence. By studying the precepts of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, which

could very well be considered the New Testament of Hinduism, one can

understand varnasrama dharma and at the same time be in a position to

transcend it altogether in the context of the culture of prema dharma,

the path of love.


See also Krsnanusilanam: The Culture of Krsna Consciousness





Questions or comments may be submitted at www.swami.org/sanga/

or email the moderator at sangaeditor@swami.org.


To , please reply with "" in the subject line.


Back issue archive: www.swami.org/archives/

Sri Caitanya Sanga website: http://www.swami.org

Audarya Bookstore: http://www.swami.org/store/

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Stree na svatantriam arhaye. It is written in manusmriti.. Look it in another way..It was written very long ago and that time the culture was like that. Now everything got changed. There are a lot of good things written in puranas. Does every one follows that. No.


So why we are going behind manu.. Leave him. Think of today and how we can implement the good things written in our puranas to todays life..


may god bless you all..

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


Now everything got changed.

Yes, everything has changed, but what have we got?


- loss of female births within past 2 decades caused by abortion and sex selection:

estimate of more than 10 million [bBC, Jan 2006]

source, India Statistics, Facts and Figures:


They rebell against Manu Samhita but how they treat women now, they kill every year one million female births and declare, "leave Manu, think of today".


Also see Times of India article:


India's Missing Women: Where Will All the Bachelors Go?


The low sex ratio (number of females per thousand males) in several northern and north-western states of India is leading to an alarming paucity of marriageable women. With juvenile sex ratios in Punjab (793), Haryana (820) and several other states touching new lows, the future looks bleak for coming generations of young males. At the best of times, bachelorhood, like spinsterhood, is not a comfortable status. But in a predominantly agricultural society like ours, it has several negative fallouts.


Speculations abound on how families and societies will cope with the excess of bachelors in India and its comrade-in-arms in the low sex ratio league, China. Raising the alarm are two analysts, Valerie Hudson (Brigham Young University) and Andrea DenBoer (University of Kent), who argue that too many unmarried males in India and China pose potential security dangers for the planet. These dangers will range from an increase in everyday violence and crime from 'rogue males' to — hold your breath — "escalating war between India and Pakistan". As a rising economic power, China could easily dream of military adventurism to keep its surplus bachelors busy and out of trouble. Another analyst, Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, wonders how China's future cohorts of young men are to be socialised with no prospect of settled family life and no tradition of honourable bachelorhood. The Chinese call these surplus males "guang guner" or bare sticks as they will not marry or bear fruit.


Such speculations appear to be in line with persisting colonial and post-colonial worries over the socially negative consequences of Third World maladies such as poverty and high population growth, perceived as posing a threat to the developed western world. As poverty and populations get reduced in India and China, threats from AIDS, terrorism and now apparently, the scourge of too many bachelors, holds new dangers.


While military adventurism as a consequence of low sex ratio may not be uppermost in our minds, the fallout of having too many bachelors is beginning to worry families and women. Combine bachelorhood with unemployment, and it is a potent mix for idle minds getting into trouble. Villages in Haryana, a state with an extremely low sex ratio, abound with unmarried men hanging about. A report from Mehsana in Gujarat, an area that practises exchange marriage (where a brother-and-sister pair marries another such), suggests that boys without sisters are being left out in the cold. If wealthy enough they can cough up a substantial sum of money to 'buy' a wife.


This excess, many fear, would mean greater violence towards women, making life even more difficult for them. Lack of bodily and sexual security can potentially reduce school attendance, lead to early marriage and cause workplace harassment. It will stymie the catch-up process now being experienced by Indian women. In north Indian society, which has a predominantly patriarchal mindset, even the scar- city of women does not appear to be doing much for raising women's value. As long as there are a few 'eligible' men, women's families will vie for them with competitive dowry offerings.


How are India and China (and South Korea for that matter) coping with this imbalance? The Chinese are reportedly abducting women for marriage or reverting to an old system where families would adopt young girls and bring them up to be future brides. The parents of the girl are saved the expense of bringing her up. Koreans are seeking ethnic Koreans from northern China or reaching out to the Philippines for wives.


In India, we have devised a more novel method. Since the low sex ratio is confined to certain regions, these areas are beginning to 'import' women from the better sex ratio areas. Thus Haryanvis and Punjabis are marrying women from Assam and West Bengal and even Tamil Nadu. Why would women from these areas want to marry men with whom they do not share language or food or other habits that make for cultural comfort? It is ironic that in a society where marriage alone gives women social status, and where it is the moral duty of parents to marry off daughters, poor women are being given away in dowry-less marriages to men in more affluent areas. In effect, the marriage market is going from local to national (reports of Haryanvis marrying Russians may mean that we are now going global). Given the bride-shortage, are people going to give up the ideology of son-preference and its practical concomitants, i.e., infanticide, feticide and girl-child neglect? National Family Health Survey data predicts that son-preference may have peaked but with the caveat that the most populous states of India aren't there yet. As states like UP and Bihar undergo the demographic transition to smaller families they will continue to want more boys than girls. To meet this goal, people are taking recourse to expensive gender selection technologies in a situation where even basic healthcare is missing. The desire for smaller families aided and abetted by prosperity and new sex selection technologies allows son-preference to survive causing the low juvenile sex ratios. The only road to redemption is for men to accept gender equality and welcome their girl children equally. Because it is these girl children who are going to look after them in their old age and not the 'preferred' sons!


(The author teaches at IIT, Delhi.)

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Every Inch of Manu Smriti is True. First of all all you read now as Manu Smriti is not the original as it has gone through the onslaught of many distortions by invaders to distarct people from hinduism.Second what will todays youth who have four girlfriends and dance in discotheques understand the real meaning of Manu Smriti.It is for celibates to read. Third Manu Smriti is for Satya Yuga, the social structure is different then, for Kaliyuga it is Parashar amhita. Third Why dont put your mind on the positive side of things rather than find negative things in a thing.The society and thinking was different then. They are many bad things today too in the prevailant society, try to reform the society now, that will be more meaningful.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
India's Missing Women: Where Will All the Bachelors Go?
Why its happening. Because people cant Take the burden of huge dowry on their heads. If every one decides not to give dowry and take dowry, this can be changed. This is where we are lagging. Some days back I heard from one of my collogue that here parents are giving 5 Cr INR as dowry. It is some thing needs attention and that way we can improve this situation. But who cares?.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

It's not just in India. Women everywhere are being exploited and mistreated, just look at the media in "westernized" countries.


The only difference I see between women in the past, and women in the future is that in current times, women are voluntarily giving themselves to men instead of being forced on.


Now that doesn't mean we should restrict them from leaving the house as the Laws of Manu state, but we should educate them thoroughly in the Vedas.


After all, Lord Krishna states in the Gita that intelligence is feminine quality, and I read somewhere that is the mothers primary job in the family to raise and educate the child.


Women aren't stupid as men have made them out to be for the past thousands of years or so. They are fully capable of taking care of themselves, but even women aren't perfect, and have faults, as do men.


Both of them need to realize the "power" they have and use them properly. It's modern society that undervalues the status of feminine roles in society, that's why women these days want to get rid of things like "feminine things" and "masculine things" because men always claimed that "masculinity" is superior and "femininity" is inferior, when in fact, both are equal in their own regards.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You are posting as a guest. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Create New...