Consumer Protection and the Manu Smriti

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Published: 10th December 2009
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This article reviews the importance of consumer protection issues as laid out in Manu Smriti. Manu Smriti or manusmriti, a semi-religious hindu text written 800 years or so before christ, sets forth guidelines on various aspects of consumer protection such as need for disclosure, prevention of cartels, quality and quantity related inspections etc. This article is part of a series that examines the growth of the consumer movement in India along the historic timeline.

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Protection of consumers has had relevance since the existence of consumers in India. It is surprising to see the roots of matters relevant to consumer protection in the Manu Smriti, a text which came into existence between 800 to 200 BC. Manu Smriti or Manusmriti is a semi-religious Hindu text recording the traditions narrated by Brahma to Manu, who is the first man to have lived on earth. The word Manu Smriti means the traditions as laid out by Manu (based on Brahma's wisdom).



The significance of Manu Smriti in matters of consumer protection is in the fact that it heeds immense importance to the economical aspects of the society and in particular unethical trade practices. Manusmriti lays out a charter of ethics for sellers on how to sell consumer products to consumers. It also specifies the penalties that must be handed out to sellers who are unethical in their actions.



Focus on prevention of adulteration is a key consumer protection issue even in those days and ages. Manusmriti specifically prohibits the sale of any commodity that has been mixed with another commodity. This is particularly significant on purchase of items such as gold where by the purity of it becomes questionable due to adulteration. It is also significant in commodities the consumption of which could have a detrimental effect on the health of the consumer; commodities include pharmaceuticals, food or personal care supplies.



Manusmriti also mandates proper disclosure of quality and quantity of all items that are sold to consumers and prohibits the concealment of any aspects related to the product sold. This is particularly significant as the majority of consumer complaints arise around issues related to the quantity and quality of the consumed product. Manusmriti gives guidelines on how often weights and measures have to be calibrated, inspected and also lays out the manner in which the results of inspections have to be dissipated.



In the modern day, business contracts are significant to consumer protection. Very often we can see consumers and consumable companies engaging in Service Level Agreements (SLA) to safe guard consumer interests especially when purchasing services that are consumed regularly over extended periods of time. Interestingly the text of Manu Smriti also provides guidelines on how business contracts may be executed and when such contracts may be deemed void.



The most significant tenet of consumer protection is given absolute importance in the Smriti. The text explicitly prohibits any form of collusions in the market which could lead to monopoly or oligopoly. The king had the absolute right and the moral obligation to control the prices keeping in mind the absolute interest of the consumer. When viewed in the background of today's antitrust laws and agencies, price conspiracies had its due share of attention even in the pre-Christ period in India.



Although in itself Manu Smriti's sole focus is not consumer protection, this work seems to focus broadly on several aspects related to the well being of the consumer. It also shows how concerned the ancient society was in matters related to consumerism. It is also surprising that despite having such a pro-consumer oriented culture 2500 years or so ago, the consumer protection movement has still not evolved to meet the challenges that Indian consumers face in this day and age.

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Consumerdaddy authors numerous articles on consumer related issues. Consumerdaddy provides India's largest consumer protection portal with consumer reports on 40000 companies and 200000 products.

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