MANUSMIRITI AND WOMEN

(From the book Hinduism Beyond Rituals, Customs And Traditions by Promod Puri)

Since bias knows no boundaries, Manusmriti not only expounds the social distance between the upper and lower castes, but it also delineates the status of women by curbing their rights. It lists guidelines for men in selecting marriage partners and puts a stamp of their superiority by creating gender inequality.

In chapter 3 with numbered paragraphs here it is what Manusmriti prescribes:

8. One should not marry women who have reddish hair, redundant parts of the body [such as six fingers], one who is often sick, one without hair or having excessive hair and one who has red eyes.

9. One should not marry women whose names are similar to constellations, trees, rivers, those from a low caste, mountains, birds, snakes, slaves or those whose names inspires terror.

10. Wise men should not marry women who do not have a brother and whose parents are not socially well known.

11. Wise men should marry only women who are free from bodily defects, with beautiful names, grace/gait like an elephant, moderate hair on the head and body, soft limbs and small teeth.

61. For if the wife is not radiant with beauty, she will not attract her husband; but if she has no attractions for him, no children will be born.

62. If the wife is radiant with beauty, the whole house is bright; but if she is destitute of beauty, all will appear dismal.

147. By a girl, by a young woman, or even by an aged one, nothing must be done independently, even in her own house.

148. In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.

149. She must not seek to separate herself from her father, husband, or sons; by leaving them she would make both (her own and her husband’s) families contemptible.

150. She must always be cheerful, clever in (the management of her) household affairs, careful in cleaning her utensils, and economical in expenditure.

151. Him to whom her father may give her, or her brother with the father’s permission, she shall obey as long as he lives, and when he is dead, she must not insult (his memory).

154. Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure (elsewhere), or devoid of good qualities, (yet) a husband must be constantly worshiped as a god by a faithful wife.

155. No sacrifice, no vow, no fast must be performed by women apart (from their husbands); if a wife obeys her husband, she will for that (reason alone) be exalted in heaven.

156. A faithful wife, who desires to dwell (after death) with her husband, must never do anything that might displease him who took her hand, whether he be alive or dead.

160. A virtuous wife who after the death of her husband constantly remains chaste, reaches heaven, though she has no son, just like those chaste men.

161. But a woman who from a desire to have offspring violates her duty towards her (deceased) husband, brings on herself disgrace in this world and loses her place with her husband (in heaven).

And in Chapter 9 Manusmriti further explicates under each numbered paragraphs that:

3. Her father protects (her) in childhood, her husband protects (her) in youth, and her sons protect (her) in old age; a woman is never fit for independence.

10. No man can completely guard women by force, but they can be guarded by the employment of the (following) expedients:

11. Let the (husband) employ his (wife) in the collection and expenditure of his wealth, in keeping (everything) clean, in (the fulfillment of) religious duties, in the preparation of his food, and in looking after the household utensils.

29. She who, controlling her thoughts, speech, and acts, violates not her duty towards her lord, dwells with him (after death) in heaven, and in this world is called by the virtuous a faithful (wife, sadhvi).

30. But for disloyalty to her husband a wife is censured among men, and (in her next life) she is born in the womb of a jackal and tormented by diseases, the punishment of her sin.

In this dehumanized and demoralized portrait of the unequivocal surrender of a woman from childhood to death, restricting every step of her stage in life, one wonders if there are few soft spots of dignity, honor and some rewards for her sacrifices in the Manusmriti.

Yes, there are. Along with the prejudice against low caste Hindus and women, Manu has some cheering exhibits in the otherwise demeaning declarations in the Manusmriti.

In Chapter 3 with numbered paragraphs of Manusmriti his preachings and observation include:

55. Women must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers-in-law, who desire (their own) welfare.

56. Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards.

57. Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers.

58. The houses on which female relations, not being duly honored, pronounce a curse perish completely as if destroyed by magic.

59. Hence men, who seek (their own) welfare, should always honor women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes, and (dainty) food.

60. In that family, where the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife with her husband, happiness will assuredly be lasting.

These silver linings in the Manusmriti provide a built-in support to decertify those defamatory statements which are not only illegal as per the constitution of India is concerned but morally, spiritually and ethically wrong.

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