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Wednesday, Oct 27, 2021
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The Lies Of Manu

As one who can look into the seeds of time, and say which grain will grow and which will not, a young Ambedkar formulates his ahimsa of inclusion.

The Lies Of Manu
Illustration by Sorit
The Lies Of Manu
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53

Hinduism haunts Ambedkar ceaselessly. He confesses to having experienced that uncanny feeling one gets when ghosts exercise their force on the living. Still in his mid-twenties, the prodigious Ambedkar writes of being troubled by the ghost of Manu, that mystical jurist of the Hindu tradition, whose classic work Manusmriti he will publicly burn in 1927. Of course, this sacrificial gesture of destruction by fire (yajna)—whose name by now is “satyagraha” and of which Ambedkar is a temporary adherent—is itself unequivocally Hindu, perhaps even Vedic. It is almost prophetic that the young Ambedkar should write in New York in 1916, more than a decade in advance, “I may seem hard on Manu, but I am sure my force is not strong enough to kill his ghost. He lives, like a disembodied spirit and is appealed to, and I am afraid will yet live long.”

So, force, whether of religion or the law, is a living apparition. What stands out however is Ambedkar’s awareness of that religious phantasm that goes by the name of Manu: disembodied, invisible and deathless, a figure that lives on, impossible to exorcise. This spectral thinking of sacredness and authority, this consciousness of force as such, makes its first appearance in Ambedkar’s Masters thesis at Columbia University. Within it is arranged the young Ambedkar’s formidable ethical and political itinerary that is still to come. The strange possession by spirit in New York perhaps also explains why it is not Ambedkar’s favourite Edmund Burke, whose Reflections on the Revolution in France appears in Ambedkar’s corpus somewhat later, but instead William Shakespeare’s Macbeth that establishes the young Ambedkar’s moral and political procedures.

At the end of the opening section of his...

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