Is Manusmriti really against women and Dalits

INDIA - The struggle against the caste system

It really is in the rainy seasonbad ”, describes the woman. “The water mixes with the excrement and when we carry it [on our head] it runs from the buckets onto our clothes, bodies, and faces. When I get home, I sometimes find it difficult to eat. The smell never completely gets out of my clothes, my hair. But that is our fate. If I want to support my children, I have no choice but to do this work. "
Narayanamma was 13 when she started disposing of human excrement. Today she is 35. The stench is disgusting, almost knocks you out. First she piles the manure together, then shovels it into a bamboo bucket with two thin sheets of tin. She carries it to a place where a tractor will come to pick it up later. No gloves. No water to wash. She wraps her saree as tightly as possible so that it doesn't drag on the floor or touch the excrement. But it is almost impossible to work a full day without getting to the feces with your clothes or your body. Narayanamma and 800,000 other toilet cleaners are on the lowest level of the Indian caste system. You are despised by everyone. They face complete social exclusion from cradle to grave. You are the other face of India that nobody likes to see - the contrast to the image of a technologically advanced country and the “We have the bomb and no longer belong to the Third World” is too strong.

The train station in South IndianChennai (Madras) illustrates this contrast perfectly. There you can connect your laptop and download e-mails, charge your mobile phones, eat hamburgers, mousse au chocolat, Chinese specialties in restaurants and snack bars and hot dosas1 and chicken tikka2 right next door. But only a few meters further you can see women pulling the manure out from between the tracks in the most primitive way imaginable, with a stick, broom and tin shovel. Why does this completely obscene contrast exist?
Because hardly anyone wants anything to change. What is referred to as caste thinking pervades Indian society down to its finest pores, hidden and almost insidious. It is a complex phenomenon and few Indians grasp it in its entirety. Although the caste hierarchy is a Hindu construct, it does not always help to change religion: even those who have converted to Buddhism, Christianity, the Sikh religion or Islam often stay true to their previous caste identity when looking for a marriage partner.

According toThe Indian caste system emerged from social scientists as a kind of division of labor and a method of controlling society and maintaining order. Its power - and its almost absolute acceptance - is due to the fact that in the eyes of the Indian majority it is justified on religious grounds. According to the 4,000-year-old Manu Sashtra3, the code of law of Manu, society is divided into four large groups or Varnas, each of which comes from a certain part of the Creator God: the head the Brahmins, a priestly elite and the purest caste; to the poor the Kshatriyas, the warriors and rulers; the legs are the vaishyas or traders. Finally, from the feet come the Sudras, the lowest caste, destined to serve the other three.
Apart from these four varnas, there are more than 3,000 sub-castes, the jatis. Each one is more or less distinct from the others. An orthodox brahmin family will not accept marriage to a brahmin from a slightly different lower caste, and most will refuse to eat anything cooked by someone from a lower caste.
The “untouchables” at the bottom of the social ladder were considered so impure that Manu did not even accept them into his system. Their complete exclusion from the rest of society was the result. Their settlements were outside the villages, and they were not allowed to speak to members of other castes or use the same routes as them, much less touch them. When the British ruled India, they left the caste system untouched so as not to cause unrest. In some ways they even strengthened it, seeing the Brahmins as a useful army of employees and officials, loyal servants of the British Empire.

Today denote yourselfthe untouchables in India as "Dalits" or "broken people". 180 million Dalits live in India alone; around the world there are an additional 60 million people who face similar forms of discrimination. An everyday form of discrimination in India is the “two-glasses system”: Dalits are not served in many restaurants. They have to stay outside and drink their tea apart from other guests. There are cups for “untouchables” on a separate bar. A Dalit guest has to take a mug and carefully place it on the counter without touching the waiter. The tea is then poured into the mug from a safe distance to eliminate the risk of contamination. The Dalits then wash the cups and put them back on the Dalit bar.
It's like a curse on India: 57 years after independence, Dalits not only continue to face injustices on a daily basis, but can also be murdered, raped and viciously humiliated simply for trying to escape the box trap and request to be treated like everyone else. What they are accused of is - for outsiders - often downright ridiculous, such as walking through the village of the ruling caste in shoes, riding a bicycle or wearing clothing that the village tyrants consider presumptuous, as far above anything they are entitled to.
Often times the whole village tacitly agrees to punishment, and the beating, rape, or humiliation is turned into a public spectacle to teach the entire caste a lesson to remind them of their place in society. This is the caste system in its ugly, unveiled form. It happens so often that Indian newspapers often don't find it worth the effort to write about it.

The big question remains: Why has so little changed for so long? Immediately after independence, there were people with a vision that was equality, justice and freedom for all. Mahatma Gandhi was at the forefront of this movement. But this would have required reparation, the distribution of land to the landless, and privileges granted to those who had been suppressed and disregarded for thousands of years. The brilliant Indian Constitution provided for all of this. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, a Dalit politician and intellectual, was its architect. The constitution listed all groups of the casteless and all indigenous peoples of India (officially the Scheduled Castes and Tribes) and established guidelines for their positive discrimination, the so-called “reservation system”, to ensure that these groups are freed from bondage and poverty become.
Even so, the situation has barely improved, as the Constitution and later relevant laws are being ignored or violated. Even today the Dalits are the poorest of the poor; they make up the majority of working children, the illiterate, the debt-bonded, have the worst health and education indicators, and do the worst jobs.
Many were inspired by Gandhi's call to rebuild the nation. But after independence, greed and power politics took the place of the spirit of sacrifice. The movement had too limited goals; it was too fragmented to have any real influence and its leaders were corrupted. The fact that the many governments were unable to protect the Dalits is attributed to a “lack of political will” in the academic discussion. In practice, this means that the police simply watch when members of the upper caste band together and burn Dalits alive because the prevailing opinion in the village is that they have become too naughty. Landowners who behave like feudal lords are supported by corrupt officials and members of the government in maintaining the old order. At the same time, everyone pays homage to the Constitution in Sunday speeches and government documents teem with hypocritical lip service.

If India also in terms ofLooking for atrocities unequaled, the situation in neighboring Nepal is hardly better. Caste discrimination is common in all areas of high Indian immigration. Other forms of caste discrimination independent of the Hindu tradition exist in many countries in Asia and Africa. In a recent UN study4, caste discrimination was redefined as discrimination “based on race, work or occupation”. The countries or regions affected were Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Fiji, Great Britain, India, Japan, Yemen, the Caribbean, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Malaysia, Mauritania, Micronesia, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, North America, Pakistan, Rwanda , Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
A perverse development is the fact that caste discrimination in diaspora communities in Western countries has increased in recent years - apparently as these communities continue to grow. In addition, the rise of Hindu fundamentalism has promoted the “be proud of your culture” (= “caste”) syndrome and has led to more segregation, separate temples and gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) and other ugly forms of discrimination.

So grim the situationlooks too, there is hope anyway. In the multifaceted history of India there have always been people who have stood up for the rights of the oppressed. Even before Gandhi fought for the rights of the Dalits, Christian missionaries had started to look after their education. Their motive - the conversion of the Gentiles - was questionable, and many allowed the converts from higher castes to maintain their caste identity. Nevertheless, they have contributed more to the education of the Dalits and Adivasi (members of indigenous peoples) than anyone else - and, as Martin Macwan affirmed, a Dalit politician in Gujarat state for 25 years, education is a deadly weapon in the fight against caste oppression.
In the 1970s, the era of a different kind of activism began: it was no longer about charity, but about fighting injustice. For three to four decades people have been campaigning for the rights of the Dalits and fighting the police, feudalist landowners and exploitative entrepreneurs across India, whether in individual cases, on a regional and national level. They support Dalits in rural areas who, despite violent repression by the ruling castes and the police, are demanding their rights.
Nonetheless, the situation in northern India is grim, and particularly in the state of Bihar, it is hopeless. "We don't expect easy solutions or quick results," said Paul Divakar, director of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR). “We have to go through certain processes in order to free ourselves from the 'brahmanic way of thinking'. In the early 1950s we fought against visible forms of untouchability, today the NCDHR has decided to fight for land rights. Land is a key issue in abolishing untouchability. According to the paper, 80 percent of the Dalits in rural areas have access to land, but as soon as they try to take control of that land, the attacks start. "

There were also changesat a political level. That 1997 with K.R. Narayanan, a Dalit elected President (see conversation on page 34) was not a small success. In the past decade, a number of strong Dalit parties have emerged, which are just as corrupt as any others, but whose existence gives the Dalits some bargaining power and political space. More recently, the success of the NCDHR in the run-up to the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in South Africa has given fresh impetus to the Dalit grassroots movements. Public hearings were organized in many capitals of Indian states, at which Dalits poured out their hearts and shared their harrowing experiences. Those present often reacted deeply moved. Some let their tears flow. After a broad support campaign, the Dalit issue was finally taken up by the UN. In March 2005, two special rapporteurs were appointed and tasked with preparing a comprehensive report. You will report annually on “discrimination based on work and parentage” and government countermeasures including prosecuting perpetrators.
In India itself there has been an encouraging development in the last five years, in the form of the "Bhopal Declaration" adopted by the Dalit Conference in January 2002 and the Common Minimum Program (CMP), an obligation imposed by the Congress Party Government to stand up for the poorest. For the first time, the private sector was also asked to reserve jobs for Dalits. Indian companies (headed by some of the richest people in the world) are desperate to get rid of the shameful, regressive feudal image that accompanies the existence of caste discrimination. There is a growing awareness of social responsibility and it is very important for many companies to be part of these changes.

Copyright New Internationalist


1) salty pancakes mostly made from rice and lentil flour
2) Pieces of chicken fillet with a spicy yogurt sauce marinade
3) also "Manu Sutras" and "Manu Smriti"
4) On the web at www.idsn.org/un.html