VCK’s Thol Thirumavalavan On Manusmriti Ban, DMK Alliance And BJP’s Smear Campaign

Nikhila Henry
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·10-min read
Thol. Thirumavalavan has maintained that his remarks merely paraphrased Manusmriti’s Chapter 9. (Photo: Facebook/Thol. Thirumavalavan)
Thol. Thirumavalavan has maintained that his remarks merely paraphrased Manusmriti’s Chapter 9. (Photo: Facebook/Thol. Thirumavalavan)

Thol Thirumavalavan, Tamil Nadu MP and the founder president of Liberation Panthers Party (Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi) is now in the eye of a political storm in the state involving the Dravidian parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and their varied takes on a 100 CE ancient text—Manusmriti. This comes as Tamil Nadu is gearing up for Legislative Assembly elections to be held in 2021. In the state, the All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), which is an ally of the BJP, is in power while an alliance of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Congress, Communist parties and VCK is in the opposition.

The bone of contention is an online speech given by Thirumavalavan on September 27 during a webinar organised by European Periyar Ambedkar Comrades’ Federation on ‘Periyar and Indian Politics’, during which he is accused of having made denigrating statements against women. While Chennai police has now booked the MP for allegedly making a derogatory statement—‘All women are prostitutes’—Khushbu Sundar, the former TN Congress spokesperson and a recent entrant to the BJP, has demanded an apology from Thirumavalavan.

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Thirumavalavan, a Dalit leader who was elected to the Lok Sabha on VCK ticket from the Chidambaram constituency, has however, maintained that his remarks merely paraphrased Manusmriti’s Chapter 9. In an interview to HuffPost India, he said, “Manusmriti is a well-known text against women, Shudras, Dalits and working-class people. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on December 25, 1927, burnt the Manusmriti (at Mahad Satyagraha) because it is the root cause of all evils in our country. Discrimination on the basis of gender, caste and work became a part of our society because it was prescribed by Manusmriti. The text naturalises atrocities against the marginalised.”

The MP said that the text still informs social and cultural practices in India and it should be banned. VCK has already observed a two-day protest in the state demanding a ban on Manusmriti. “Several people have said that the text is old and not in practice. If that’s the case, why are they defending Manusmriti? They should not be affected by a ban on the book,” he said.

Thirumavalavan maintained that Khushbu, whose political stand he had supported on several occasions before she joined the BJP, “was misled”… into opposing him. “Had she listened to the whole of my speech, I think she would not have criticised VCK or me,” he said. While the MP alleges that the BJP wanted to dent the DMK alliance before the elections by “playing cheap politics”, he maintains that the controversy has only strengthened the partnership between DMK and VCK.

“The alliance is strong as ever,” he said.

Edited excerpts from the interview.

A vocal section on social media, including BJP’s new entrant and former actor Khushbu, has been rallying against part of an online speech which you made in September. The speech refers to Manusmriti and its take on women. What went wrong?

I attended a webinar organised on September 27 by European Periyar Ambedkar association on ‘Periyar and Indian Politics’. The inaugural address of the webinar was by T. Veeramani, the president of Dravidar Kazhagam (founded by Periyar). The next day, DMK’s MP Kanimozhi spoke. Later I spoke about Periyar, the Constitution and social justice in a 40-minute speech.

I expressed the view that Periyar was not anti-Brahmin or anti-Gods. His real fight was against Manu Dharma and gender-based discrimination against women, Shudras and Dalits. He organised working-class people against Manusmriti. He also fought for emancipation of women. In continuation, I said that Manu Dharma is against women. I paraphrased chapter nine of Manusmriti and said that the text regards all women as prostitutes. It was not a direct quote but it encapsulated the crux of the text and its concept of women’s nature.

A month after the webinar, the BJP (supporters) misquoted me on social media, widely circulated 40 seconds of the 40 minute speech which I gave, and accused me of making derogatory statements about women. The fact that I was only explaining Manusmriti’s diktat was willfully hidden from the public.

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.

When did you start the protest against Manusmriti and why are you demanding that it be banned?

We have been protesting the ideology of Manusmriti since the 1990s. Rajasthan High Court has a statue of Manu (erected in 1989) and this year we have requested the Congress government in the state and Soniaji (Congress President Sonia Gandhi) to remove the statue as it insults women, Shudras and Dalits.

Manusmriti is a well-known text against women, Shudras, Dalits and working-class people. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar on December 25, 1927 burnt the Manusmriti (at Mahad Satyagraha) because it is the root cause of all evils in our country. Discrimination on the basis of gender, caste and work became a part of our society because it was prescribed by Manusmriti. The text naturalises atrocities against the marginalised.

Hence we are asking for its ban.

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Ever since parts of your speech went viral, a section has been claiming that Manusmriti is only an ancient text which is not read by most. Then why ask for a ban now?

Several people have said that the text is old and not in practice. If that’s the case why are they defending Manusmriti? They should not be affected by a ban on the book.

The impact of Manusmriti is on our value system. For example, not many people read the Constitution but we follow the ideals of the constitution in the form of law and order in our daily lives. Though we may not read the religious text of our choice, be it Bible, Quran or Bhagavad Gita, we imbibe its values. These texts are alive because of what we practise based on their values. Similarly, people may not have heard of Manu or read Manusmriti but they practise its values, thereby keeping the text alive in social customs.

The fact remains that Manusmriti has made a huge impact on our society. Our day-to-day life and its social customs are based on Manusmriti. The laws of Manu are not legalized in our country but every day we witness social customs which are based on Manusmriti.

Our habitation is segregated based on caste into agraharams for Brahmins, some localities for upper castes and colonies for Dalits. The Indian Constitution which is the basis for the law of the land does not encourage this segregation but Manusmriti does. Inter-caste marriage is banned by Manusmriti and we see its ramifications now in today’s caste killings of people who marry from other castes. Similarly, even though the Constitution has banned child marriages, we see its prevalence in our country because of Manusmriti.

When from habitation to marriages and even religious worship rituals are based on Manusmriti, it is clear that this text—the Manusmriti—rules our country and not the Constitution. Following the footsteps of Manu (the author of Manusmriti), the Modi government in the centre is now trying to replace the Constitution with Manu Dharma.

Then why should the text not be banned?

All allied parties including DMK, Congress and Communist parties have supported VCK because the BJP is playing cheap politics for the coming elections. In fact, DMK exposed BJP’s agenda.

How is the BJP’s ideology based on Manusmriti? Can you elaborate?

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) follows Manusmriti in a way that they do not support reservation for women or Dalits. As Manusmruti is against women’s (both upper caste and Dalit) emancipation and even their education and property rights, the RSS does not support these causes. Manusmriti prescribes that a woman should not be on her own. She should be controlled and monitored by men—either by their father, husband or son. The same ideology is replicated by the BJP when it thwarted reservation for women.

But the Union government led by the BJP could claim that it introduced the scheme Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao which purportedly aims at educating the girl child. The party could claim that they support women’s rights.

After the BJP government came to power, violence against women and girl children has become rampant all over the country. Caste killings are also rampant. The BJP is not ready to control atrocities against women. The government has not implemented the POCSO Act in its true spirit and they do not support reservation for women.

Now your statement has become a political rallying point for the BJP in Tamil Nadu. The party has asked for a public apology from you. DMK president M.K. Stalin has had to openly come out in support of you. Has this controversy affected your political interests?

VCK has been fighting against Manusmriti because we are followers of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Periyar. The smear campaign against me is politically motivated. The BJP wants to break- up the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam alliance before the Tamil Nadu Assembly Elections. My party VCK is with the DMK and DMK has supported us.

Has this controversy affected your alliance with DMK because you have not shelved your demand to ban Manusmriti? In fact you organised a two-day protest against the text after the controversy gathered momentum.

All allied parties including DMK, Congress and Communist parties have supported VCK because the BJP is playing cheap politics for the coming elections. In fact, DMK exposed BJP’s agenda.

Their support is not just for the party but for the truth because I never made demeaning comments against women. They have all held that Thirumavalavan is not against women as he had only quoted Manusmiriti.

So there are no chinks in the alliance?

No, the alliance is strong as ever.

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Does VCK support equal participation of women in politics?

VCK has been demanding 50% reservation for women because women form 50% of the country’s population (women’s reservation bill seeks 33% reservation for women). The party has been working for equal rights for women and collaborating with several women’s organisations. The party also has a women’s wing, Women’s Liberation Movement. Women have been given priority and they occupy various capacities in our party. VCK has been placing women as state, district and union level secretaries. Our party’s youth wing is the only political unit which shares power between two secretaries—one male and one female.

This is the first generation of Dalit women who have come out to demand their rights. Considering this, VCK has been encouraging them to contribute towards social service. While in other parties women remain in the lower rungs, in our party we have seen brilliant women leaders emerge from the margins because we create such a space for them.

In 2005, when Khushbu had expressed her opinion about pre-marital sex, several people opposed her. However, you had spoken in support of her right to express her opinion. Now the same actor, who recently joined the BJP, has accused you of denigrating women. Do you think this is fair?

When Khushbu was facing protests, I had told VCK cadre not to go against her. I had intervened and opposed any such tendency in the party. I told them that she has her freedom to express her views and should not be opposed.

Now she has joined the BJP. I think it is only because of her party’s insistence that she opposed my take on Manusmriti. She was misled, I believe. I think she was shown only the 40-second video clip and not the full video. Had she listened to the whole of my speech I think she would not have criticised VCK or me.

Are you sure that she was misled?

I am sure about it.

You have asked for a ban on the book because its values are corrupting people. What would be the book which should replace Manusmriti to teach ideal values?

People should follow the Constitution. Everyone should follow the constitution because only the Constitution provides liberty, equality and fraternity. These are the values which people should uphold. Manusmriti should be replaced by the Indian Constitution. The Modi government should implement the Indian Constitution and not Manusmriti.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost India and has been updated.