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Critics say the Manusmriti is pro-Brahmin, and written by casteist Brahmins by favoring a particular section of society and thereby oppressing Shudras, women, and other lower castes.

Edit Note: While Varṇa and class are often associated in general use, from within the religion Varṇa is objective, and isn't dependent on how humans organize themselves. As can clearly be seen in the number of times people get it wrong.

Is this argument valid?

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  • @LazyLubber Which part do you think could have been written by a sadist or psycho? Provide the verses please.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 2 '19 at 3:23
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    8.270, 271, 272, for example.
    – user16581
    Feb 2 '19 at 3:31
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    @LazyLubber Those are standard punishments in Hinduism. For raping women you get burned alive, if a Brahmin drinks liquor he should kill himself with boiling liquor, for sleeping with one's guru cutting off testicles, etc.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 2 '19 at 3:33
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    not sure if you have read the verses. They dont deal with rape or liquor. (By the way, drinking liquor punishable by death???)
    – user16581
    Feb 2 '19 at 3:37
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    @LazyLubber, because people in Kali Yuga are driven to the vices, they feel that the punishment doesn't fit the crime. whereas in earlier Yugas, the acts that could be committed by a person with an intoxicated mind would have been deemed worse than his death.
    – mar
    Feb 2 '19 at 4:17
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NOTE: Manusmriti critics have cherry-picked certain verses from the Manusmriti to show that Manu was unfair towards Shudras and partial towards Brahmins. The purpose of this answer is to provide the rest of the other verses that censure bad Brahmins and praise good Shudras, to show that the critics cherry-picked those verses unfairly, and that Manu is actually fair towards all castes.

In reality, the Manusmriti censures bad Brahmins and bad Shudras, and praises good Brahmins and good Shudras.


Is the Manusmriti pro-Brahmin and written by casteist Brahmins to oppress Shudras?

No, because upon a closer look at the Manusmriti, its intention is to secure the welfare of all living beings.

If the Manusmriti is pro-Brahmin, then how could it have verses like this?

8.102 - ‘He shall treat like Śūdras the Brāhmaṇas who tend cattle, who engage in trade, and who are craftsmen, actors, menial servants or money-lenders.’

(Brâhmanas) who neither study nor teach the Veda nor keep sacred fires become equal to Sûdras;

And they quote a verse of Manu on this (subject), 'A twice-born man, who not having studied the Veda applies himself to other (worldly studies), soon falls, even while living, to the condition of a Sûdra, and his descendants after him.'

'(A twice-born man) who does not know the Veda (can)not be (called) a Brâhmana, nor he who lives by trade, nor he who (lives as) an actor, nor he who obeys a Sûdra's commands, nor (he who like) a thief (takes the property of others), nor he who makes his living by the practice of medicine.'

2.103 - But he [the Dvija] who does not stand during the morning-twilight, and who does not sit through the evening-twilight, should be excluded, like the Sūdra, from all that is due to twice-born persons.

11.90 - A twice-born person, having, through folly, drunk wine, shall drink wine red-hot; he becomes freed from his guilt, when his body has been completely burnt by it.

Gautama (23.1).—‘They shall pour hot wine into the mouth of a Brāhmaṇa who has drunk wine; he will be purified by death.’

Baudhāyana (2.1.18, 19, 21).—‘If he [a Brahmana] has drunk Surā he shall scald himself to death with hot wine.

3.133 - As many mouthfuls as the person [Brahmana] ignorant of the Veda swallows out of the offerings to gods and Pitṛs [at a Sraddha], so many flaming spikes, spears and iron-balls does the man [Brahmana] swallow after death.

Hārīta (Do.).—‘Even those born of noble families and endowed with learning,—if they be of base conduct and addicted to wicked deeds,—they are even regarded as demons. Those addicted to the killing of birds, fish and deer, serpents and tortoise and other animals are all Bad Brāhmaṇas. Who serves a Śūdra, who is supported by the King, the village-sacrificer, those living by killing and capturing—these six are Low Brāhmaṇas.

5.19 - The mushroom, the village-pig, garlic, the village-cock, onions and leeks,—the twice-born man eating these intentionally would become an outcast.

5.53 - In normal times the twice-born man conversant with the law shall not eat meat unlawfully; having eaten it unlawfully, he shall, after death, be devoured by them helplessly.

5.35 - But when invited according to law, if a man [Brahmana] does not eat meat, he becomes, after death, a beast, during twenty-one births.

And many more verses. Of course, there are many verses praising Brahmanas, but as shown above, there are many verses deprecating bad Brahmanas. So, how can anti-Hindus cherry pick certain verses and portray the Manusmriti as pro-Brahmin? That is unfair, biased, and illogical.


Now let's address another related criticism.


Is the Manusmriti anti-low caste?

No it is not. Dharma is conducive to one's welfare. According to Jaimini's Purva Mimamsa Sutra 1.1.2:

Dharma is that which is indicated by the Veda as conducive to the highest good.

Therefore, how can anyone say that Dharma is wrong or evil?

Here is the Dharma of Shudras:

9.334 - For the Śūdra the highest duty conducive to his best welfare is to attend upon such Brāhmaṇa house-holders as are learned in the Vedas and famous.

9.335 - If he is pure, attendant upon his superiors, of gentle speech, free from pride, and always dependent upon the Brāhmaṇa,—he attains a higher caste.

Viṣṇupurāṇa (Parāśaramādhava-Ācāra, p. 419).—‘It is only through attending upon the twice-born that the Śūdra becomes entitled to perform the Pākayajñas; and thereby becoming blessed, he wins the worlds [earth and heaven].—The Śūdra also shall make gifts, and perform the Pākayajña-sacrifices, as also the rites in honour of Pitṛs.’

Why should Shudras serve Brahmanas aside from it being their primary duty? Because according to the Mahabharata:

Mahābhārata—Anuśāsana (Do.).—‘Finding the Śūdra oppressed with bad traits due to the quality of Tamas, Pitāmaha ordained attendance upon the twice-born as his duty. Through his devotion to the twice-born, the Śūdra drops off all those traits due to the quality of Tamas; and by attending upon the twice-born, the Śūdra attains the highest good.—Harmless, devoted to good deeds, worshipful towards gods and the twice-born, the Śūdra becomes endowed with all the rewards of Dharma.’

Shudras are in fact, oppressed by the quality of Tamas, and not by serving Brahmanas! It is by serving Brahmanas that Shudras become Sattvic, and then are no longer oppressed!

Also, some rights given to Shudras that higher castes don't have:

2.23 - But the region where the spotted deer roams by nature is to be known as the ‘land fit for sacrificial acts’; beyond that is the ‘land of the Mlecchas.

2.24 - The twice-born people should seek to resort to these countries [where the spotted deer roams by nature]; the Śūdra may however, when distressed for a living, reside in any land.

10.122 - He shall serve Brāhmaṇas either for the sake of heaven, or for the sake of both; when he has attained the title of the ‘Brāhmaṇa,’ this implies the accomplishment of all his purposes.

10.124 - They [the Dvijas who are served by a Shudra] should provide out of their family, a suitable maintenance for him [the Shudra servant], after considering his own capacity, and the man’s skill and the burden of persons to be supported by him.

10.125 - Remnants of food and worn-out clothes shall be given to him; as also the grain-refuse and old furniture.

10.126 - For the Śūdra there is no sin; nor is he worthy of any sacraments; he is not entitled to any sacred rites; but there is no prohibition against sacred rites.

10.127 - If those [Shudras] who, knowing their duty, and wishing to acquire merit, imitate the practices of righteous men, with the exception of reciting the sacred texts, they incur no guilt; they obtain praise.

11.93 - Wine [Sura] indeed is the dirty refuse of grains, and sin also is called ‘dirt’; for this reason the Brāhmaṇa, the Kṣatriya and the Vaiśya shall not drink wine [but the Shudra can].

Gautama 10.67 - If Âryans and non-Âryans interchange their occupations and conduct (the one taking that of the other, there is) equality (between them).

'There is equality between them, i.e. the one need not serve the other. A Sûdra need not serve even a Brâhmana, (much less) any other (twice-born man) who lives the life of a non-Âryan (Sûdra). A Sûdra, even, who conducts himself like an 'Âryan must not be despised by men of other castes, who follow the occupations of non-Âryans, on account of his inferior birth.'--Haradatta.

On the other hand, there are verses that seem to be anti-caste, such as these:

8.270 - If a once-born person insults a twice-born one with gross abuse, he should suffer the cutting off of his tongue; as he is of low origin.

8.271 - If he mentions the name and caste of these men with scorn, a burning iron nail ten inches long shall be thrust into his mouth.

8.272 - If through arrogance, he teaches brāhmaṇas their duty, the king shall pour heated oil into his mouth and ears.

However, these verses stand on the same footing as verses like these:

Gautama (23.1).—‘They shall pour hot wine into the mouth of a Brāhmaṇa who has drunk wine; he will be purified by death.’

11.103 - He who has violated his Preceptor’s bed shall confess his crime and lie down upon a heated iron-bed; or embrace a blazing image. By death he becomes purified.

11.104 - Or, having cut off his penis and testicles, he shall take them in his joined hands and walk straight on towards the ‘region of evil spirits,’ until he falls down [dead].

Therefore, it is not right to select some verses and say "the Manusmriti is anti-Shudra."

Therefore, the Manusmriti was not written by casteist Brahmins who wanted to oppress Shudras.

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    @Ikshvaku, most people in Kali are Sudras, atleast in character, if not in name. the biggest reason for brahmin-hatred is totally justifiable - brahmins stopped acting like 'brahmins' - how many of us do sandhya-vandana, the most basic of rites ? how many of us avoid eating in hotels ? how many avoid drinking, non-veg ? what makes us different than Sudras. kanchi periyavar said it clearly - brahmins are the biggest reason for their own downfall. which also makes it very clear that to reverse the trend is also in their hands.
    – mar
    Feb 3 '19 at 4:10
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    Yes @ram I am pro-Brahmin but Brahmin themselves embarrass me by their acts. Feb 3 '19 at 8:23
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    @ram You're correct, hypocritical Brahmins don't have any authority to tell other people what to do or not do. In fact, the scriptures even say that they shouldn't even be treated like Brahmanas, but like Shudras. But what I'm talking about are good Brahmanas.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 3 '19 at 15:24
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    @ram On the other hand, I think that the Brahmins who care about being Brahmins are the ones who follow their religion. The Brahmins who follow their religion are the ones who complain about anti-Brahminism. Brahmins who act like Sudras don't care about anti-Brahminism, I think.
    – Ikshvaku
    Feb 3 '19 at 17:03
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    @Ikshvaku, they care about anti-brahminism when it affects them i.e reservation
    – mar
    Feb 3 '19 at 20:38
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Yes, it appears so. This is what Patrick Olivelle says in the Introduction to his translation of Manusmṛti (a.k.a Mānava-Dharmaśāstra):

Reading the MDh one cannot fail to see and to feel the intensity and urgency with which the author defends Brahmanical privilege. A major aim of Manu was to re-establish the old alliance between priesthood and royalty, an alliance that in his view would benefit both the Brahmin and the king, thereby re-establishing the Brahmin in his unique and privileged position within society. We hear the repeated emphasis on the inviolability of the Brahmin in his person and in his property. He has immunity from the death penalty, from taxes, and from the confiscation of his property.

The king is advised repeatedly that a Brahmin's property is poison. Stealing a Brahmin's gold is one of the five grievous sins, and the death penalty is imposed on the perpetrator. Devotion to Brahmins is a cardinal virtue of kings: 'Refusal to turn back in battle, protecting the subjects, and obedient service to Brahmins—for kings, these are the best means of securing happiness' (7.88). The reason why foreign ruling classes, such as the Greeks, Śākas, Persians, and Chinese, have fallen to the level of Śūdras, once again, is their lack of devotion to Brahmins: 'By neglecting rites and by failing to visit Brahmins, however, these men of Kṣatriya birth have gradually reached in the world the level of Śūdras' (10.43).

The Brahmanical privilege is threatened from two quarters: the Śūdra, within which class Manu often lumps all the lower classes of society, and the Mleccha (foreigner, barbarian). Now, it is true that even the Dharmasūtras contain passages that are anti-Śūdra. It is taken for granted that the sole duty of Śūdras is to serve the upper classes; penalties for killing a Śūdra are much less than for killing people of the upper classes; likewise, penalties are increased for guilty Śūdras; the list could go on. Yet we also see that Śūdras acted as cooks in Brahmin households Āpastamba (2.29.11-15) even says that one may learn aspects of the Law (dharma) from Śūdras. There is a virulence in Manu's rhetoric vis-a-vis Śūdras lacking in the Dharmasūtras that appears to indicate that there must be a subtext to it. How could the lowest class of society with little access to material resources pose such a threat to social order and to Brahmanical hegemony? The fear of the Śūdra contrasts sharply with Manu's view of Vaiśyas. These are dealt with in a dispassionate and straightforward way. Why were Vaiśyas, who are depicted as agriculturalists and traders, that is, people with resources, not a threat to the Brahmin-Kṣatriya alliance that Manu was attempting to forge and strengthen? At one level, I think, historical memory is at work here; Śūdras were once in power and posed a real threat to Brahmanical hegemony, and history can always repeat itself.

Beyond that, however, 'Śūdra' for Manu is often a code word; it identifies the enemy and it encompasses a wide cross-section of society, both past and present. It evoked the memories of bad old days; it heightened the anxiety that what happened under the Mauryas could be repeated. I also think that there was a contemporary threat to Brahmanical supremacy not so much from political power but from rival religious establishments, especially the Buddhist and the Jain monastic orders. I think Manu includes these within his code 'Śūdra'. The connection between Śūdra and the non-Brahmanical ascetic sects is drawn by Manu himself. In his advice regarding a Brahmin's residence, Manu (4.61) says: 'He should not live in a kingdom ruled by a Śūdra, teeming with unrighteous people, overrun by heretical ascetics, or swamped by lowest-born people.' Here we have a clear juxtaposition between a kingdom ruled by a Śūdra king and a region populated by heretical ascetics (principally, Buddhists and Jains), by lowest-born people, and by unrighteous men.

Indeed, Manu's instruction (9.225) to the king about cleansing his kingdom of dangerous people includes men who belong to heretical sects. The strength of Buddhism in the north-western regions during this period and the patronage offered to them by what for Manu were Mleccha (foreign, barbarian) kings may also have influenced the connection between heretic and Śūdra/Mleccha.

Alongside Śūdras, we have the Mlecchas. Manu is cognizant of the regions occupied by the foreign barbarians, for at 2.23 he defines the areas outside the central Aryavarta as the region of Mlecchas. Manu, however, does not have much to say about the Mlecchas in the rest of the book; his focus is on the Śūdras. Or, is the code 'Śūdra' meant also to encompass these other outsiders as well?

Note that at 10.44 Manu presents the Mleccha groups such as Greeks, Śākas, and Chinese as sunk to the level of Śūdras, although they were Kṣatriyas by birth.

The ideology that drives Manu explains the plan of his book. He devotes 1,034 verses (38.6 per cent) to the discussion of the Brahmin and 971 verses (36 per cent) to matters relating to the king; these two take up three-quarters of the entire text.

Manu's agenda is twofold:

  • he wants to tell Brahmins how to behave as true Brahmins devoted to Vedic learning and virtue, and
  • he wants to tell kings how to behave as true kings, devoted to Brahmins and ruling the people justly.

For this agenda he brings the authority of no less a person than the Creator himself, who is presented as the absent author of the text.

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    I am getting many flags for comments. Be respectful to each other. Also, post comments only relevant to the post.
    – The Destroyer
    Feb 3 '19 at 17:21
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Yes, obviously - it supports a form of slavery. It is also written to ensure that certain men can breed with all women, but other men have very little access to mates. The most obvious part which shows it is Chapter 10 - Abnormal Social Conditions. I am giving some quotes from 10.5 onwards to 10.123:

Among all castes, those only who are born of consorts wedded in the natural order, as virgins of equal status, are to be regarded as the same (as their father).

The sons begotten by twice-born men on wives of the next lower castes, they declare to be equal, tainted as they are by the defect of their mothers.

Children of the Brāhmaṇa from the three lower castes, of the Kṣatriya from the two lower castes, and of the Vaiśya from the one lower caste,—these six have been declared to be ‘lowborn.’

From the Śūdra on the ... the Brāhmaṇa maiden are born the mixed castes... the ‘Caṇḍāla,’ the lowest of men.

The sons of twice-born men from women of the next lower caste, who have been enunciated in due order, are called by the name of the lower caste, on account of the taint attaching to their mothers.

Those also beget on each other’s wives several ‘alien’ sons, greatly tainted and despised.

As the Śūdra begets an ‘alien’ being on a Brāhmaṇa woman,—even so an alien propagates on females of the four castes, a still more alien being.

The ‘Dasyu’ begets on the ‘Āyogava,’ the ‘Sairandhra,’ skilled in toilet and attendance

From the ‘Niṣāda’ is born of the ‘Kārāvara,’ who works in leather; and from the ‘Vaiḍehaka’ the ‘Andhra’ and the ‘Meda,’ who have their dwellings outside the village.

By the ‘Caṇḍāla,’ on the ‘Pukkasa’ woman is begotten the ‘Sopāka,’ whose livelihood consists of death

The ‘Niṣāda’ woman bears to the ‘Caṇḍāla’ the son called ‘Antyāvasāyin,’ working in the cremation-ground, despised even by out-casts.

By the force of austerities and the seed they attain higher or lower rank among men, through birth

The base-born sons of the ‘twice-born,’ as also those who have been declared to be ‘born of transgression,’ shall subsist by lowly services of ‘twice-born’ persons.

The dwelling of Caṇḍālas and Śvapacas shall be outside the village; they shall be made ‘Apapātra,’ and their wealth shall consist of dogs and donkeys. The clothes of dead bodies shall be their dress; they shall eat in broken dishes; their ornaments shall be of iron, and they shall be constantly wandering. One who follows the law shall not seek intercourse with them; their transactions shall be among themselves and their marriages with their equals.

Their food should be given to them, through others, and in a broken dish; they shall not wander about in villages or cities during the night.

For aliens perfection is secured by unrequitedly giving up the body for the sake of Brāhmaṇas

The decision is that—‘one born to an Ārya from a Non-Ārya woman may be an Ārya in quality; but one born to a Non-ārya even from an Ārya woman is always Non-Ārya’

The settled law is that both these are unfit for the sacraments:—the former on account of the defect in his birth and the latter by reason of his being born ‘in the inverse order.’

The seed sown on barren soil perishes prematurely; and soil without the seed would be a mere barren plot. Because through the power of the seed, those born of animals became sages, honoured and extolled, therefore it is the seed that is more important.

The Kṣatriya, fallen in adverse circumstances, shall subsist by means of all this; but he shall never think of arrogating to himself the higher occupations.

The service of the Brāhmaṇa is described as the distinctive duty of the Śūdra; everything else that he does is fruitless for him.

Unlike Itihaas, Vedas, Puraan, Shaiva Agamas and secret scriptures, smritis (remembered) and dharma sutras are not revealed texts. If they contradict sacred scriptures, they must be discarded. All the other scriptures I mentioned show that you can change Varna in this life based on deeds. There are countless examples.

EDIT - And this is not cherry-picking, there is literally a WHOLE CHAPTER on slavery and discrimination as I have mentioned. In fact, 9.335 is cherry-picking because it is the only verse in entire Manusmriti which says that you can change Varna from lower to higher.

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    Well, it is cherry-picking, as you stopped before Âryans and non-Âryans are not equal or not equal statement and the apostate Varnas, which are all worse than any of what you listed as they have a sinful soul (as opposed to Caṇḍāla, who are described with another word probably refrencing their surface habits). May 26 at 11:45
  • It isn't even a "whole chapter". The verses list start and end you chose is completely arbitrary and not substantiated by any common theme. That isn't how the chapters are subdivided by people who subdivided the whole book. wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/… May 26 at 11:50
  • Also, the idea that Varna can change within a lifetime is not "cherry-picking," because it doesn't contradict anything the Manu Smrti says. "Cherry-picking," has to involve ignoring contradictory information, otherwise there is no reason just to just the text at face value. May 26 at 11:54
  • Everything clearly talks about discrimination based on birth and origin. 3.156 also condemns the teacher of a shudra. 10.67-68 (4th last and 3rd last quotes in my answer) say that people born with Non-Arya mother or father are BOTH "unfit for the sacraments" which means initiation according to Medhatithi, Shankaracharyas and others. This is called the settled law. Please read the quotes again or maybe you have a comprehension issue..... I can't believe you are making stuff up to defend this book which has RUINED the lives of billions of people. Please do not respond to me again
    – R. Kaushik
    May 27 at 4:48
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No. Excepting the great Indian philosophers, even profound western philosophers from Plato to Nietzsche are found to tantalize with non-egalitarian, anti-democratic oder by appropriating Brahmin-centric (philosopher-centric) non-egalitarian system which is the actual sanction of nature's order, for inequality is the very fact of the nature. With non-egalitarian Brahminical order, which is the actual heir of nature's order unlike democratic system, favor is bestowed on everybody with its submission to Swadharma-centred universal progression towards harmony, sanity & truth.

“Close the Bible and open the Manu Smriti. It has an affirmation of life, a triumphing agreeable sensation in life and that to draw up a lawbook such as Manu means to permit oneself to get the upper hand, to become perfection, to be ambitious of the highest art of living.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power.

Despite being bereft of Indianized education, Friedrich Nietzsche, with his philosophical intellectual prowess, evocate a great deal of approximately valid conclusions from the Dharma-Śāstra.

  • Nietzsche was greatly fond of Manu as he asserts that The Laws of Manu “originates as does every good law-book: it summarizes the experience, policy and experimental morality of long centuries, it settles accounts, it creates nothing new” (Nietzsche, 2003a: p. 188).
  • Nietzsche claimed that the Hindu caste system is the warranting of an order of nature (Nietzsche, 2003a: p. 189) and it can be argued that the caste system is linked to humanity’s biological structure.
  • Nietzsche delighted in the idea that the Hindu caste system was the ratification of an order of nature because it is a highly undemocratic system; and Nietzsche despised democracy because it allowed ‘weak willed fools’ to decide the governance of a country. For Nietzsche, democracy is Christianity applied to politics – “the democratic movement is the heir to Christianity” (Nietzsche, 2003b: p. 125).
  • The brahmins are at the head of the caste system, controlling all castes beneath them. So, to reiterate, the Hindu caste system celebrates intellect and strength as is reflected in aphorism 57 of The Anti-Christ (1895), and the most ‘highbrow’ and naturally gifted people are always in power: exactly how Nietzsche believed society should be implemented.
  • Similarly to the Hindu caste system being antidemocratic, it is also a hierarchal societal system. Arguably another reason for why Nietzsche claimed the caste system is “only the sanctioning of a natural order” (Nietzsche, 2003a: p. 189), as it supposedly reflects the natural order.
  • In Twilight of the Idols (1889) he makes the differing comparison between the New Testament and The Laws of Manu – “How paltry the ‘New Testament’ is compared with Manu, how ill it smells!” (Nietzsche, 2003a: p. 68)

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