Saturday, 26 July 2014
India's Open Defecation Crisis: Why Not Bring Manusmriti Into This?
Social and mainstream media have recently picked up on a s***-stirring study by Michael Geruso and Dean Spears. These scholars link significantly lower child mortality rates amongst Indian Muslims to sanitation, specifically latrine habits. You can read the abstract of the study here: http://www.isid.ac.in/~pu/seminar/dean.pdf And they propose that the difference in defecation habits between Hindus and Muslims stem from scriptural guidance; in the case of Hindu – the law code of Manu. Vivek Dehejia (@vdehejia) and Rupa Subramanya (@rupasubramanya) have shared their views on the study (http://rupasubramanya.blogspot.in/2014/07/is-it-religion-which-makes-hindus.html)
While R Jagganathan (@TheJaggi) asks ‘Why bring Manusmriti into this?' (http://www.firstpost.com/living/indias-open-defecation-crisis-why-bring-manusmriti-into-this-1634347.html)
Neither the abstract, nor the media commentators have offered any substantial detail about what Manu actually says on the issue. In keeping with the spirit of this blog, a review of verses in Manu’s law code on defecation is in order. I find two verses that could be construed as encouraging the followers of Manu’s dharma to defecate far away from their place of dwelling as the Geruso & Spears study suggests. But the bulk of the verses are seized not just of personal cleanliness, but also the cleanliness of the area where the defecation takes place. It’s important to remember that the dharmasūtra were written in a rural milieu where WCs were not exactly the norm. And Manu’s dharmaśāstra, (although taking cognizance of developments like cities and courts) retains the earlier (almost obsessive) mind set on cleanliness and purity - not just personal but of one’s surroundings.
I agree that most Hindus don’t walk around with a pocket–Manu which they whip out for reference (Subramanya & Dehejia) and in cases like this one, perhaps more's the pity. I disagree with R Jagganathan (Why bring Manu into this?) Why not bring Manu into this? Perhaps it's not an exaggeration to say that 99% of Hindus are unfamiliar with what Manu says, except the bad press the text receives. We are not obliged to follow anything in the text that our conscience doesn't allow us. So why not read it? Why throw the baby out with the bath water? Why not reconnect with Manu? To the case in point, a review of verses relevant to this topic might add something to the debate. I find Manu's recommendations on par of any sanitation advice given by a UN body, ADB or WHO today!!
I’d like to thank Rama Lakshmi (@RamaNewDelhi) for bringing this debate to my notice. And I’ll be requesting Rana Safvi (@iamrana) to share with us scriptural tracts which regulates defecation habits of Indian Muslims, if they exist and if she is so inclined. Sounds bizarre? Well, rather than taking offence at the scholars or their subject, I think it makes more sense to address their study with Manu himself.*
First the verses which possibly support Geruso & Spears:
Urine, water from washing the feet, remnants of food, and dirty water, he should dispose of all these far away from his house (Olivelle)
Far from his dwelling let him remove urine (and ordure), far (let him remove) the water used for washing his feet, and far the remnants of food and the water from his bath. (Bühler)
If someone in distress discharges his bodily waste either without water or in water, he is purified by bathing with his clothes on outside the village and then touching a cow. (Olivelle)
He who has relieved the necessities of nature, being greatly pressed, either without (using) water or in water, becomes pure by bathing outside (the village) in his clothes and by touching a cow. (Bühler)
Now the rest, italics mine for emphasis:
Ch 4 on the observances and conduct of a snātaka (bath-graduate)
45. Let him not eat, dressed with one garment only; let him not bathe naked; let him not void urine on a road, on ashes, or in a cow-pen,
46. Nor on ploughed land, in water, on an altar of bricks, on a mountain, on the ruins of a temple, nor ever on an ant-hill,
47. Nor in holes inhabited by living creatures, nor while he walks or stands, nor on reaching the bank of a river, nor on the top of a mountain.
48. Let him never void faeces or urine, facing the wind, or a fire, or looking towards a Brahmana, the sun, water, or cows.
49. He may ease himself, having covered (the ground) with sticks, clods, leaves, grass, and the like, restraining his speech, (keeping himself) pure, wrapping up his body, and covering his head.
50. Let him void faeces and urine, in the daytime turning to the north, at night turning towards the south, during the two twilights in the same (position) as by day.
51. In the shade or in darkness a Brahmana may, both by day and at night, do it, assuming any position he pleases; likewise when his life is in danger.
52. The intellect of (a man) who voids urine against a fire, the sun, the moon, in water, against a Brahmana, a cow, or the wind, perishes.
77. Let him never enter a place, difficult of access, which is impervious to his eye; let him not look at urine or ordure, nor cross a river (swimming) with his arms.
92. Let him wake in the muhurta sacred to Brahman, and think of (the acquisition of) spiritual merit and wealth, of the bodily fatigue arising therefrom, and of the true meaning of the Veda.
93. When he has risen, has relieved the necessities of nature and carefully purified himself, let him stand during the morning twilight, muttering for a long time (the Gayatri), and at the proper time (he must similarly perform) the evening (devotion).
151. Far from his dwelling let him remove urine (and ordure), far (let him remove) the water used for washing his feet, and far the remnants of food and the water from his bath.
152. Early in the morning only let him void faeces, decorate (his body), bathe, clean his teeth, apply collyrium to his eyes, and worship the gods.
Ch 5 on Purification
132. All those cavities (of the body) which lie above the navel are pure, (but) those which are below the navel are impure, as well as excretions that fall from the body.
134. In order to cleanse (the organs) by which urine and faeces are ejected, earth and water must be used, as they may be required, likewise in removing the (remaining ones among) twelve impurities of the body.
135. Oily exudations, semen, blood, (the fatty substance of the) brain, urine, faeces, the mucus of the nose, ear-wax, phlegm, tears, the rheum of the eyes, and sweat are the twelve impurities of human (bodies).
A man intent on purifying himself should apply one lump of earth on the penis, three on the anus, ten on one hand, and seven on both (Olivelle)
He who desires to be pure, must clean the organ by one (application of) earth, the anus by (applying earth) three (times), the (left) hand alone by (applying it) ten (times), and both (hands) by (applying it) seven (times). (Bühler)
137. Such is the purification ordained for householders; (it shall be) double for students, treble for hermits, but quadruple for ascetics.
138. When he has voided urine or faeces, let him, after sipping water, sprinkle the cavities, likewise when he is going to recite the Veda, and always before he takes food.
* The translation of Manu in this blog post is that of George Bühler since it is easily available on the internet for reference:
Where I find Patrick Olivelle’s translation clearer, I’ve provided that too.