When the Supreme Court blocked the Centre’s bid to extend reservation for the backward classes in admissions to elite institutions like the IIMs, a retired IAS officer, writing in a Chennai newspaper, hailed the overturning of “the Menacing Mantra of Mandalism founded on a superstructure of fraudulent foundations”.
That set me thinking about superstructures built on fraudulent foundations, which the Supreme Court has not overturned, and probably never will.
The oldest Indian superstructure built on a fraudulent foundation is Manusmriti. We know that B. P. Mandal, the author of the Mantra that the ex-bureaucrat finds menacing, was born in Bihar. But we have no reliable information about Manu Swayambhuva, the supposed author of the Code of Manu.
Pundits have offered several explanations for the name. One is that Manu was the first Man -- the Hindu Adam, if you like. He was Swayambhuva, that is to say, he procreated himself. Another explanation is that he was Manu, son of Swayambhuva, who, of course, is the Creator who created Himself. The suggestion is that Manu was his given name and Swayambhuva his surname!
Thanks to painstaking research by K. P. Jayaswal, a renowned scholar in Sanskrit and Law, in the early part of the last century, we know that the man who is today fraudulently identified as Manu Swayambhuva was Sumati Bhargava, a member of the Bhrigu family. Delivering the Calcutta University’s Tagore Law Lectures on “Manu and Yajnavalkya – a comparison and a contrast”, Jayaswal said,
The author of the Naradasmriti, writing in or about the 4th century of the Christian era, states that one Sumati Bhargava composed the ‘Code of Manu’. Sumati Bhargava is not a legendary name. He must, therefore, be taken to be a historical entity. The author of the Naradiya is not uncorroborated. The Code itself is signed in the family name of Bhrigu, which was the ancient custom current up to the first century of the Christian era. “The text composed by Bhrigu (entitled) ‘the Dharma Code of Manu’” is the real title of the work, subscribed to at the end of every chapter of ‘Manu’s Code’ itself.
Jayaswal delivered the Tagore lectures in 1919. The lectures were published in book form a decade later. The extract given above is from an edition of this book, brought out by Cosmos Publications, a division of Genesis Publishing Pvt. Ltd., Daryaganj, New Delhi, in 2004.
Manu’s Code, according to Jayaswal, was written during the Sunga period (185 to 73 BC). The Sungas, who took power after the decline of the Buddhist empire of the Mauryas, were Brahmins. The Brahmin was the ‘lord of everything’ and the absurd claims that the Code made for Brahminism were generally admitted at the time. The Sungas were followed by the Kanva dynasty. Bhasa, who belonged to the Kanva period, indicates that Sumati’s code was the ruling authority in that period too. In Bhasa’s time, the Brahmin was a militant: he was always armed.
A few centuries after the Code of Manu came the Code of Yagnavalkya. Says Jayaswal:
The Code of Yagnavalkya reduced the fanatical penances of Manu to very reasonable limits. It raises the position of the Sudra, allows him Chandrayana penance which had been open only to the twice-born, enjoins respect to be shown to him when gifted with knowledge, and allows trade to him. The extravagant punishments for his suppression are omitted. Likewise the extravagant claims of the Brahmin for total immunity are set aside, and he is brought under the king’s law. The profession of arms is once more forbidden to the Brahmin. His claim to sovereignty is ignored.
According to Jayaswal, Yagnavalkya’s code bears the stamp of the kindly conscience bequeathed by Buddhism. It made penances and punishments less severe. Laws about women were brought in conformity with their social position, already immensely raised by Buddhism. Their right to inherit was fully admitted. All this certainly did not make the Yagnavalkya code very modern. As Jayaswal puts it, “Yagnavalkya with his progressive tendency still retains orthodox conservatism.”
Jayaswal avers that Yagnavalkya’s Code may be taken to have replaced and repealed Manu’s Code throughout the land of Aryan civilization. Yet it is by Manu’s name that the votaries of Hindutva swear today, not by Yagnavalkya’s. Even the Supreme Court often invokes Manu’s name. It rarely mentions Yagnavalkya’s.
Incidentally, both Manu and Yagnavalkya belong to the Yajur Vedic school, Manu to the Black one and Yagnavalkya to the White one.
Merit is another Indian superstructure built on a fraudulent foundation. Within months of the promulgation of the Constitution on January 26, 1950, one Chembakam Duraisamy filed a petition in the Madras High Court challenging reservation for the backward classes, which had been in force in Madras since the British days.
Chembakam claimed she had applied for admission in a medical college but could not get a seat because she belonged to a forward community. Her case was argued by Alladi Krishnaswami Iyer, who was a member of the Committee that drafted the Constitution. The High Court declared the reservation policy unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, on appeal, upheld the High Court order.
Years later it came to light that Chembakam, who completed her B.A. in 1934, had not applied for admission to any medical college in 1950, as was claimed in the petition.
The fraud served a wider national purpose. The Supreme Court decision prompted Parliament to introduce a clause in the Constitution, giving the state the power to make special provisions for socially and educationally backward classes of people.