In the latest political skirmish in Tamil Nadu, actor-turned-politician Kushboo Sundar was arrested while she was travelling to Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu on Tuesday.
Kushboo was on her way to join a protest rally organised by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) founder president and MP Thol Thirumavalavan’s recent comments. Her arrest was the latest in a series of developments in the ongoing row over Manusmriti, an ancient Hindu document that lays down the code of conduct in a Hindu society.
Where it all began
Late in September, while speaking at a web conference, organised by the European Union of Periyar-Ambedkar Comrades’ Federation, Thirumavalavan condemned Manusmriti and quoted some lines from it.
“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,” he said.
According to the VCK, while the webinar was held on September 27, the video began circulating only recently. The party has accused the BJP of releasing an edited video clip. According to VCK general secretary and Villupuram MP Ravikumar, the clip was doctored and circulated on social media by some anti-socials to suit their fanatical religious agenda, as reported by The Frontline.
What is the Manusmriti?
The Manusmriti is a Hindu religious text that was written by Manu, the mythological ‘first man’, thousands of years ago. Right wing parties depend on the text for its ideologies and fairly conservative stand. The text was translated into English in 1776 by Sir William Jones and was used by the British colonial government to create Hindu laws for India. In the past, it has been condemned by revolutionaries like BR Ambedkar for its divisive nature. It also provides validation to the four-fold caste hierarchy, which is still prevalent in most parts of India.
A timeline of events
Newly-instated BJP member Kushboo, on October 23, demanded an apology from Thirumavalavan on the grounds of making misogynistic remarks. She quit the Congress earlier this month and joined the BJP on the same day.
In his response, the MP tweeted a video clip on the same day, and defended himself by saying that Ambedkar and Periyar wanted the religious text to be burnt.
On October 24, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief MK Stalin called out the Tamil Nadu police for filing a complaint against Thirumavalavan. “It reveals the prejudiced approach of the police department, which directly comes under the purview of the CM,” Stalin said.
On October 27, lyricist Vairamuthu, who has been accused of sexual harassment by several women, tweeted in support of Thirumavalavan, appreciating him for “working for the welfare of women”.
Singer Chinmayi Sripada, who had also accused Vairamuthu of sexual harassment, called this development “ironical”, referring to Vairamuthu’s post that Thirumavalavan retweeted. “There is no problem with Thol Thirumavalavan speaking up against Manusmriti. He himself has been at the receiving end of caste oppression. But to have done it by pedestalising a molester (Vairamuthu), is really ironical,” she said.
A similar irony played out in 2005 when Thirumavalavan protested against Kushboo’s awareness drive on premarital sex and AIDS. She was blamed for defaming Tamil womanhood and chastity.
Kushboo’s arrest, however, made headlines and has helped the BJP make inroads into southern India.