How Manusmriti Triggered a Row in Tamil Nadu, Became a Divisive Figure Ahead of Elections

Poornima Murali
·3 min read

Chennai: The controversy over the “regressive” views in the Manusmriti, believed to be a Hindu text dictating the rules of morality, has snowballed over the last few days into a war of words erupting between the Tamil Nadu BJP unit and DMK ally VCK, spilling onto the streets in the form of protests spearheaded by both groups.

In the times of digital era, when political campaigns are conceived and escalated on the social media, a webinar by VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan on the Manusmriti turned out to be an effective handle for the BJP to trigger a campaign. On an ascendant note in Tamil Nadu, the BJP has been on the lookout for politically sensitive developments; recently, a Periyarist gang called Karuppar Kootam was highlighted by right-wing YouTuber Maridhas to decry unsavoury remarks about Lord Murugan in the name of denial of God. In the aftermath of the controversy, the BJP took shots at the DMK for normalising diatribes against Hindu Gods.

With Thirumavalavan speaking about the regressive laws in the Manusmriti, particularly about how the text views women in society, the BJP took the opportunity to fire salvoes again. As the standoff escalated, the BJP announced state-wide protests against Thirumavalavan on Tuesday.

Just hours before the state-wide protest by the BJP, its leader Khushbu was detained by the Chengalpattu police while she was on her way to Cuddalore district to participate in the protest. This detention was because the Cuddalore district administration denied permission for the BJP protest scheduled for Tuesday.

In a response to the social media action against Thirumavalavan after the webinar, the VCK held a protest last Saturday and firmly held its opposition to the Manusmriti, demanding its ban. Thirumavalavan and other VCK leaders put out translations of the text to underscore their view that it was a barrier to women equality. On Saturday, DMK’s president MK Stalin weighed in, bringing the perspective that Thirumavalavan was just echoing views of greats such as BR Ambedkar and EV Ramasamy Periyar who campaigned all their lives against the Manusmriti and the Sanatana Dharma.

As the state elections of 2021 near, efforts to polarise the Tamil Nadu electorate appear to be afoot. As opposed to several states in the Hindi belt, the southern state has always given the slip to religious polarisation, particularly the brazen kind practiced by the BJP and the Congress in states such as Uttar Pradesh.

Political experts view Thirumavalavan’s effort to target the Manusmriti as a move that would fetch few votes to the DMK alliance: “It can dent the DMK's image and may even deny the party additional votes in a very marginal way, but not much. This is also not going to get Thirumavalavan more votes, which is already consolidated in Seeman's[ Naam Tamizhar Katchi convenor] favour,” said N. Sathiya Moorthy, political analyst, adding that the controversy would not fetch the BJP any favour either, as such attempts did not succeed even during the times of Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa.