It’s not unknown that Savarkar was a reformer par excellence. From inaugurating the Patita Pavana Mandir at Ratnagiri to being an active Hindutva leader who’d unify the Hindus and ask them to rise above their castes — Savarkar was everything. However, the left has tried to tarnish the image of Savarkar using multiple instances, failing miserably in their mission to do so. Now, the lobby is raising a question mark on Savarkar’s social anticipation by alleging that he had endorsed the Manusmriti in its entirety.
That’s just the tip of an iceberg. The quoted line is just a small portion of what Savarkar had actually said in the context of the Manusmriti.
Before I quote Savarkar here, I’ll just describe what his words will be including. Savarkar never said that any scripture that failed to stand the test of rationality and social justice could be used as a sacred law code. Savarkar, like any moderate Hindu, respected only the selected portions of the Smritis that were suitable to the modern era. He said that the archaic and discriminatory contents needed to be discarded and inspirations may be drawn from the other parts that preached positive thoughts.
The opinions of Savarkar on Manusmriti comes from a variety of speeches that he had made during Navaratri and certain articles that he had written which were published in a progressive Marathi magazine. Savarkar’s opinion on the archaic and defeatist contents in the Manusmriti were not at all positive. This is what he had said about the Conservatives of that era who would tend to obey Manusmriti to be the supreme law book:
“Our conservative friends would now realize how impossible it is to abide by the rules of Manu and regard his commands as valid for all times. He further says that it is absurd to impose greatness on such texts. That attempt is laughable and prohibits progress.”
Does he celebrate the Manusmriti here? Certainly not. Now, let alone the Manusmriti, he termed following every scripture that supported casteism to be a “mental illness” :
“Scripture-based caste division is a mental illness. It gets cured instantly when the mind refuses to accept it. The seven indigenous shackles whose breaking will liberate this Hindu Nation from the illness and demonic possession that is caste division are as follows: vedokta bandi (prohibition of Vedic recital and worshipping according to Vedas), vyavasaya bandi (prohibition of certain occupations), sparsha bandi (untouchability), sindhu bandi (prohibition of sea faring), shuddhi bandi (prohibiton of re-conversion), roti bandi (prohibition of inter-dining), beti bandi (prohibition of inter-marriages).”
Source : 1935, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol. 3, p. 497-499
Again, he had openly shunned the scriptures that had promoted untouchability. Believe it or not, this was a daring act to be done on those days. The society was still largely orthodox and was bound by the “shackles”.
“Discard those 5000 year old superstitions of untouchability and scripture-based caste discrimination! Unshackle the bonds that stem from literalist belief in shrutis, smritis and puranas and hinder your duty! And unsheath every weapon that is capable of destroying all calamities that strike you today! May you find that weapon in the armoury of your tradition or in that of modernity.”
Source : 1934, Vidnyannishtha nibandha or pro-science essays, Samagra Savarkar vangmaya, Vol 3, p.380
Now, coming back to the line that has been quoted in the question.
“Manusmriti is that scripture which is most worship-able after Vedas for our Hindu Nation and which from ancient times has become the basis of our culture-customs, thought and practice. This book for centuries has codified the spiritual and divine march of our nation. Even today the rules which are followed by crores of Hindus in their lives and practice are based on Manusmriti. Today Manusmriti is Hindu Law. That is fundamental.”
Source : ‘Women in Manusmriti’ in Savarkar Samagar (collection of Savarkar’s writings in Hindi), Prabhat, Delhi, vol. 4, p. 415.]
Just tell me where is Savarkar asking to consider the erroneous laws in the Manusmriti? It shouldn’t be unknown by now to an average Hindu that Manusmriti, or for instance, any Smriti text is a storehouse of contradictions. So, Savarkar wanted to state that the erudite suggestions in the scripture should form the basis of what would be followed in a Hindu nation. Now, now. What’s not shown in this context is that in the same article of Savarkar, titled “Women In Manusmriti”, Savarkar had said this :
“We may find many passages in Manusmriti which can provide valuable guidance to today’s problems. but we should accept them because they are beneficial today, not because they were found in an ancient text and certainly not because manu’s orders are not to be transgressed. Whatever we find in Manusmriti to be harmful or ridiculous today should not be followed, but that does not make Manusmriti harmful or ridiculous. On the contrary, when compares Manusmriti with codes of other societies such as Babylon, Egypt, Hebrews, Greece and Roman, Manusmriti stands high above the rest. It deserves our respect for that”
So, Savarkar makes it crystal-clear that he wanted to follow a middle road. He wanted to discard the obsolete content in the Manusmriti, but didn’t want it to discard as a whole — for he wanted the positives of Manusmriti to be followed only if it suited the present context. Savarkar only respected the Manusmriti and other such texts in their entirety, as mere historical documents and not as sacred stuffs. That which contained discrimination, was never acceptable to Savarkar.