Tamil Nadu police register a case against Thol. Thirumavalavan for his ‘degrading’ remarks against women and Manusmiriti on the basis of a 'doctored video'

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Thol. Thirumavalavan, VCK president and Member of Parliament, reading a Tamil book on Manusmriti at a protest meeting to boycott the Hindu text. Photo: By Special Arrangement

A “doctored” video of a webinar on “Periyar and Indian Politics” in which Thol. Thirumavalavan, Dalit leader and Member of Parliament (MP), was seen quoting certain portions from Manusmriti on the status of women and their role has created a raging controversy in Tamil Nadu.

Thirumavalavan, president of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), an ally in the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) alliance, had reportedly said in the webinar that Manusmriti treated “all women as prostitutes”. Though the webinar was held on September 27, the controversial “edited” video clip started making rounds in social media only now.

It prompted a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) functionary to file an online complaint to the Cyber Crime of the Tamil Nadu Police for making a “degrading” comment on women.

Based on the complaint, the police registered a case against Thirumavalavan under six sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC): Section 153 (Wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot); Section 153A(1) (Whoever by words, either spoken or written, promotes disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes); Section 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings); Section 298 (Uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings); Section 505(1)(b) (With intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public); and Section 505(2) (Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill will between classes).

Political observers were of the opinion that it was yet another ill-advised move by the BJP, an unpopular party in a State where the politics is a bipolar affair between the two Dravidian majors, the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the DMK. In July this year, a few atheist youths of “Karuppar Kootam” (A gathering of Blacks) posted a video of “Kanda Shashti Kavasam”, a devotional song sung in praise of Lord Murugan. On the basis of a similar complaint, the State police arrested and detained some of them under the Goondas Act.

What irked the Hindutva forces was the call given by Thirumavalavan for a State-wide protest against Manusmriti. Thirumavalavan justified the urgent need to oppose Manusmriti by saying that the ancient Hindu text was given a fresh leash of life and had gained traction across the country after the BJP came to power at the Centre. “It [the BJP] was trying to implement Manusmriti’s dogmas that are oppressive to a society as a whole, attempting to destroy the secular fabric of a democracy and pushing back a civilisation into the dark era of obscurantism,” he said.

In fact, in the “unedited” video clip of the webinar, which was organised by the European Union of Periyar-Ambedkar Comrades’ Federation, Thirumavalavan, referring to Manusmriti’s oppressive strictures, especially on women, had said: “God created all women as prostitutes as per Hindu dharma [and as per] Manu dharma. Manusmriti says that women have to remain slaves to men. In Sanatana dharma, women are lowly and cheap. Their existence is associated with purity. If women are to be emancipated, Manu has to be rejected and banned.”

This video clip, according to Ravikumar, VCK general secretary and Villupuram MP, was doctored and circulated in social media by some anti-socials to suit their fanatical religious agenda. He said: “In fact we have been voicing our protest against Manusmriti for long. Our party even wrote a letter to Congress leader Sonia Gandhi in June this year, asking her to take steps to remove the statue of Manu from the campus of the Rajasthan High Court. This present protest was just an extension of our continuing efforts against the Manu scripts.”

In Ravikumar’s opinion, Manu was regressively anti-women. He quoted a portion from Chapter 9 of The Laws of Manu : “Section 9: The wife brings forth a man who is just like the man she makes love with; that is why he should guard his wife zealously, in order to keep his progeny clean; Section 15: By running after men like whores, by their fickle minds, and by their natural lack of affection, these women are unfaithful to their husbands even when they are zealously guarded here; Section 16: Knowing that their very own nature is like this, as it was born at the creation by the Lord of Creatures, a man should make the utmost effort to guard them; Section 17: The bed and the seat, jewellery, lust, anger, crookedness, a malicious nature and bad conduct are what Manu assigned to women.”

Reacting to the developments, Thirumavalavan told the media that a democratic and social outfit such as the VCK had the moral responsibility to fight against the Sanatana forces that were inimical to the concept of an egalitarian society. Said Thirumavalavan: “It is an ideological war. Manusmriti should be banned. It is regressive and anti-women. Its dogmas have been responsible for the social ills the country and its people are facing today. That was why Dr Ambedkar and Periyar opposed it. Dalit leader M.C. Raja burnt it. Dr Ambedkar renounced it in 1927.”

The actor Khushboo Sundar, who had recently joined the BJP from the Congress, condemned Thirumavalavan for his comment. However, Vasanthi Devi, renowned educationist and former Vice Chancellor of Tirunelveli Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, said that protests against Manusmriti was vital for the emancipation of women.

Various political leaders and activists strongly criticised the Tamil Nadu government for registering cases on flimsy reasons just to mollify the ruling dispensation at the Centre. M.K. Stalin, DMK president, strongly condemnned the actions of the police and pointed out that such actions would not destabilise the alliance the DMK had built in the State against the forces of Hindutva. The Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), other political parties and Dalit organisations extended their support to Thirumavalavan.