A Dalit human right activist Martin Macwan has written to Congress president Sonia Gandhi demanding the removal of a statue of Manu installed in the premises of the Rajasthan High Court. The letter states that the statue of Manu is an “insult to the Indian Constitution and Dalits” and it “weakens the call of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar to annihilate caste for India to grow as a nation”.
“The statue does not just symbolise Dalit oppression, but it symbolises the oppression of women and of shudras. In all, that makes up about 85 per cent of the population of India,” says Macwan, who is the founder of Navsarjan Trust, a grassroots Dalit organisation based in Gujarat.
Macwan adds that the statue is a symbol of an oppressive past and harks to the lived reality of Dalits and women in India, whose lives are still affected by the discriminatory laws put down by Manu in his text ‘Manusmriti’. The text is known to have formalized regulations around the caste system and the patriarchal values often propagated in Hindu tradition.
“What is even worse is that unlike the statues of slave owners and confederate leaders that have been brought down in the US, this statue was not put up hundreds of years ago. It was put up 31 years ago by a few advocates who viewed Manu as one of the earliest people to write law in India and hence wanted to establish that legacy,” says Macwan.
The statue was put up by a lawyers’ body that got the approval from the Rajasthan government to put it up outside the High Court in 1989. “It is not like the statue was set up in a public place, it was set up in a place that represents an institution of our government. How can we continue to condone that,” adds Macwan.
There have been many attempts to bring down the Manu statue over the last 30 years. In July 1989, just six months after the statue was placed, a panel of judges from the Rajasthan High Court ordered its removal. Following this, a PIL was filed against the order, and since then the court order for the removal of the statues has been stayed. More recently, in 2018, two Dalit women from Aurangabad, who are members of the Republican Party of India, travelled all the way to Jaipur to climb up the Manu statue and smear it with paint. The two women have an ongoing case against them.
“In 2020, we are not only celebrating 73 years of Independence, but also 93 years since Dr Ambedkar burnt the Manusmriti. It is high time we get rid of that statue,” says Macwan.
Macwan and members of Navsarjan Trust have given an ultimatum to the Congress government in Rajasthan, stating that if the statue is not removed by August 15, they will call for an agitation.