A video showing an Indian woman burning a copy of Manusmriti, an ancient Sanskrit text often described as a “code of conduct” for Hindus, went viral on social media last Sunday. It comes at a time when India is experiencing a rise in Hindu nationalist sentiment.
Woman Sets Manusmriti On Fire, Lights Cigarette With It, Video Goes Viral https://t.co/7AyjLYF1S2
— ParanjoyGuhaThakurta (@paranjoygt) March 8, 2023
Social media users identified the woman in the video as 27-year-old Priya Das, who lives in the northeastern state of Bihar. She was also recognized as a state secretary for the women’s wing of the Rashtriya Janata Dal, a political party in Bihar and Jharkhand that fights for the rights of Dalits and other lower castes and religious minorities.
In the video, she was shown cooking chicken on a stove. She then lit a copy of the Manusmriti on fire and lit a cigarette with the book now in flames.
मेरा उद्देश्य किसी की भावना को आहत पहुंचाना नहीं बल्कि बहुजन समाज में जागरूकता लाना है
जो ग्रंथ महिलाओं को समानता नहीं देता उसको जला देना ही उचित है? अंधविश्वास पाखंड वाद और ढोंग के विचारों पर वार करना मेरा उद्देश्य है? मनुस्मृति दहन बाबा साहब ने
25 दिसंबर 1927 की थी @Vndnason pic.twitter.com/W2j7PAxE2p
— Shiv Kumar Chawla ASP (@shiv__ASP) March 6, 2023
Priya’s act received mixed reactions from many netizens in India. While she was praised for standing up against oppression, others didn’t see her actions positively. They even said the book-burning act was directed toward Hindus and promoted “intolerance” against them.
It's wrong to burn any holy scriptures, anyone who does it, is punishable.
— Ameer Ali (@Ameer_I_can) March 6, 2023
In another video, she was also seen speaking to the media explaining why she burned the Manusmriti, saying that the book allows women who drink alcohol to be punished in several ways. However, her caste must be determined first before carrying out the punishment.
"Burning of Manusmriti is only a symbolic action; its foundation and purpose were laid long ago by Babasaheb (Ambedkar). Burning the book was not to go against any one person or political leader.” Das explained, referring to India’s first law and justice minister, B. R. Ambedkar. “My motive was to launch an attack on the disgusting, shallow, and hypocritical mindset. That is my purpose,” she added.
It may just become a trend - burning the manusmriti. Let all women raise their voice against misogynistic ideology
— Monica Segan (@monicasegan1) March 5, 2023
While she admitted that burning books were not right, Priya argued that the purpose of books is to create and share knowledge and education. In the case of Manusmriti, however, the book discriminates and divides people, and she believes there should be a protest against such books.
Also called the Laws of Manu, the Manusmriti is one of many legal texts in Hinduism. The book is notorious for promoting injustice and discrimination against Dalits and other members of India’s lower castes. B. R. Ambedkar, one of the framers of India’s constitution and a Dalit himself, rejected the book and even burned it, gathering the masses in Maharashtra to protest against it.
Ambedkar famously burnt Manusmriti to make a point. But he also wrote extensively doing his part to popularize the inhumanity, oppressiveness & subjugation it perpetuates, how it's the go-to tool of privileged castes/ruling classes, how it demeans Dalits and women in particular.
— DoNotFoolYourself (@fool_do) March 5, 2023