In his last public engagement, on the day his successor was being elected last Thursday, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam exhorted his countrymen and women and children not to take gifts that came with strings attached.
“Yesterday, a well-known person gave me a gift of two pens. I had to return them with unhappiness,” he said, an quoted from the ancient Hindu code of law Manusmriti which says that by accepting gifts, the divine light in the person gets extinguished.
That seemingly innocuous quote has drawn the ire of Dalits in Rajasthan who call the reference to Manusmriti “unwarranted” and “shocking and strange”.
P.L. Mimroth of the Centre for Dalit Rights has said “the outgoing President need not have quoted from the archaic Hindu code of law that had created the Varna system under which the higher castes for centuries denied all basic human rights and dignity to Dalits.”
“For us, Manu only symbolises the unjust social order imposed on Dalits from time immemorial… Quoting from Manusmriti amounts to paying homage to a figure who represents all that is unjust in the Indian society.”
Manuvaad can be debated till the cows come home and go back, of course, but is nothing right about Manusmriti? Including the bit about the divine light in the person getting extinguished if a person receives a gift with a purpose?