Indian women are blessed since scriptures like Manusmriti give them a respectable position in society, Delhi High Court judge Justice Prathiba M Singh said on Wednesday, Bar and Bench reported.

Manusmriti is a Hindu scripture authored by an ascetic named Manu. The text has been widely criticised for its gender and caste-based codes, among other topics.

However, addressing the inaugural session of a conference organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Judge Singh claimed that Vedic scriptures show how to respect women.

“I really think we are a blessed lot of women in India and the reason for that is our scriptures have always given a very respectable position for women and as Manusmriti itself says that if you don’t respect and honour women, all the pooja path that you may do has no meaning,” she said, according to Bar and Bench.

The judge also advised working women to live in joint families. Men in such families promote women as they are older and wiser, she added.

“That way [living in joint families], we share our resources,” Singh said at the event where she was asked to speak on the challenges faced by women in science, technology, entrepreneurship and mathematics. “We do not need to be selfish to say ‘I need my time, I need this’. You can be a little more adjusting and compromising, but the benefits of a joint family system are far more than what in a nuclear family.”

Manusmriti on women

Quite contrary to Singh’s take on Manusmriti, the Hindu scripture dictates regressive conduct for women. Here are some excerpts from The Law Code of Manu, Patrick Olivelle’s translation of the scripture, published by the Oxford University Press:

“Even in her own home, a female – whether she is a child, a young woman or an old lady – should never carry out any task independently. As a child, she must remain under her father’s control, as a young woman, under her husband’s; and when her husband is dead, under her sons.”

— Chapter 5, shlokas 148, 149

“Though he may be bereft of virtue, given to lust, and totally devoid of good qualities, a good woman should always worship her husband like a god.”

— Chapter 5, shloka 154

“Wife, son and slave – all these three, tradition tells us, are without property. Whatever they may earn becomes the property of the man to whom they belong.”

— Chapter 8, shloka 416

Social media reactions

On Thursday, Historian Audrey Truschke said that Singh’s comments were “nonsense”. In series of tweets, she cited excerpts from Manusmriti, adding that in one word, the ascetic’s ideas could be described as “inequality”.

Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation leader and activist Kavita Krishnan said it is “downright scary that the rights of women in India lie at the mercy of judges like Pratibha Singh”.

Communist Party of India member Brinda Karat said as a High Court judge, Justice Singh should uphold the Constitution of India regardless of her personal views.

“The scriptures she has quoted are in many sections directly in flagrant opposition to the Constitution and the rights granted to women of India and especially Dalit and Adivasi women by the Constitution,” Karat said in a statement.

Lawyer Karuna Nandy wrote she suspects that Justice Singh has not read the entire scripture.

Several other social media users also took to Twitter to raise objections on the observations made by the Delhi High Court judge.