Letter to ‘open-minded’ Indian citizens – Retelling Uniform Civil code

Dear ‘open-minded’ Indian citizens,

With the Law Commission currently seeking public opinion on the Uniform Civil Code, issues related to the implementation of UCC across India have once again come to the fore. It is upto us how we as Indian citizens counter these issues.
For the uninitiated, what is UCC?
UCC is the proposal to replace personal laws of each religious community of India with a common set governing every citizen. Article 44 of the Indian constitution specifies that ,” The State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India. ”
Since the Directive Principles are only guidelines, it is not mandatory to use them.
Why UCC is needed?
Currently, there is a Hindu Marriage Act, a Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act 1937, a Christian Marriage Act and a Parsee Marriage and Divorce Act. Hindu Marriage Act applies to any person who is a Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion. There is also a Special Marriage Act 1954 under which people can perform marriage irrespective of the religion followed by either person. These laws deal with matters involving marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintainence of the respective religions.
Existence of personal laws based on religion has kept the nation divided into watertight compartments in many aspects of life and thus, keeping India back from advancing to nationhood.
Unlike stated by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board(AIMPLB) or the Rashtriya Adivasi Ekta Parishad ( a group that claims to represent interests of 11 crore tribals) that implementing UCC will hamper India’s secularism [1,2], UCC will in turn eliminate discrimination on the basis of religion.
What the opponents of UCC fail to understand is that their very argument is fallacious and self-contradictory as secularism means equal treatment of all religions by the state.
In an affidavit filed in court, AIMPLB said, ” … it is the issue of freedom of conscience guaranteed under the Article 25 and 26 read with Article 29 of the constitution” [1]
It seems that they’re disoriented as Article 25 (freedom of conscience and free propagation of religion) and Article 26(freedom to manage religious affairs) are “subject to public order, morality and health. The right to practice religion is disparate from the individual rights relating to inheritance, marriage or divorce.
Through UCC, circumscriptions or barring of practices such as witchcraft, superstition, child marriage, prohibitions against window remarriage, polygamy, polyandry, triple talaq, Maitri Karar in Gujarat, Natha Pratha in Rajasthan’s Bhil community will distemper gender injustice. Women are grossly discriminated in the name of religion. One definitive example is of a legally married wife who filed a bigamy suit under CPC Section 494 in Ahmedabad as her husband had entered a liaison in the name of Maitri Karar (A Gujrati social custom of keeping mistresses by circumventing Hindu Marriage Act)[3].
As far as the Muslims are concerned, I would like to quote a verse of Quran which is sacred law of the Muslims –
” And if ye fear that ye will not deal fairly by the orphans, marry women who seem good to you, two or three or four and if ye fear that ye cannot do justice (to so marry) then one(only) or (the captives) that the right hand possess. Thus, it is more likely that ye will not do.”
It is clear that the Quran only permits, does not enjoin polygamy and that too only in those cases where the man finds it impossible to safeguard the interests of widows and orphans. If the man doesn’t feel confident of treating all the wives equally without discriminating against any of them, he should have only one. Is it possible for a man to give equal love and affection to all four wives ? It is quite impossible. Therefore the arbitrary power of the Muslim husband to have more than one wife has been controlled almost in all the Muslim countries[4]. If Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan have reformed Muslim Personal law, why should Indian Muslims fall behind?
And yes, does Rashtriya Adivasi Ekta Parishad(RAEP) look after the interest of tribal men and not women?
Isn’t Dr. Surajmani Stella Kujur vs Durga Charan Hansdah case[5] a classic exposition of male chauvinism in alliance with religious conservatism?
Not to mention Shah Bano case 1978 where the appellant was denied the right to maintainence. Similarly, I see pro-male rules in Section 10(A) of the Christian Divorce Law that makes the separation period of two years mandatory for mutual divorce whereas in other statutes, the requirement of separation is one year. Also the Succession Act 1925 gives Christian mothers no right in property of the deceased kids[6].
The right to equality of the Fundamental Rights of the constitution speaks of equal protection of the laws, regardless of race, class, religion or gender. So, implementation of UCC will entail safeguarding of this basic fundamental right.
Why is it difficult to have a UCC?
Ignorance amongst the mass is the cardinal factor. When the RAEP claimed that the tribals had their own personal laws and do not come in the category of Hindus[2] , it was easily understood that they failed to comprehend what UCC is. UCC is being perceived as the imposition of the Hindu code and procedures, and as result of this erroneous religious ideologue amongst the minorities, a rational debate on its implementation has become an arduous task (It’s mainly due to over-zealous bhakts waving the UCC flag quite mindlessly).
It will do away not only with Muslim Personal Law or Christian Law or any other tribal law but all other laws on the statute books that grant legal sanctity to unique practices (read: mal-practices :P) of the diverse communities of India.
Moreover, despiteful communal politics has led to distortion and misdirection of UCC, thus stalling the process of social reform.
The argument that UCC will lead to the loss of cultural identity among minorities is factitious. As a matter of fact, uniform civil code will focus on rights, leaving the rituals embodied in personal law intact within the bounds of constitutional propriety[7]. Goa’s uniform civil code – derived from the Portugese Civil Procedure code 1937 – is our case in point.

Way ahead
One must understand that the religion involves relationship between an individual and his/her God and that implementation of UCC doesn’t establish a challenge to faith and religious identity, even after modification of customs.
Hence, we should welcome Law Commission’s exercise of seeking public opinion through questionnaire whose aim is to manifest coexistence of reform in UCC and religious freedom.

Yours sincerely,

Just another ‘open-minded’ Indian citizen

References:

1. “Muslim personal law outside SC jurisdiction, asserts board” Dhananjay Mahapatra, TOI ( Mar 24, 2016)

2. “Tribal rights group moves SC against Uniform Civil Code” Utkarsh Anand, The Indian Express ( Oct 24, 2016 )

3. “Love pacts: Just good friends” Chander Uday Singh, India Today ( Oct 24, 2013)

4. Shiv Sahai Singh, Unification of Divorce Laws in India, p29-30

5. “Marriage: Scheduled tribes not covered under bigamy law. “

6. “Uniform Civil Code is good but it can wait” RD Sharma, Hindustan Times (Jun 15, 2016)

7. “Who’s afraid of a Uniform Civil Code?” BG Verghese

8. ” Uniform Civil Code because we’ve long ignored real minorities” Sreemoy Talukdar, First Post ( Jul 1, 2016)

9. “Uniform civil code: Law panel seeks public opinion on anti-women practices” Dhananjay Mahapatra, TOI ( Oct 13, 2016)

10. “ ‘Maitri Karar’: Gujarati Social Custom of keeping mistresses by circumventing Hindu Marriage Act” Desh Kapoor, Dristikone ( Jan 3, 2013)

11. “SC Ruling on Hindu Succession Act Lends Credence to Uniform Code Nishtha Gautam, The Quint ( Nov 24, 2015)

P.S. The views expressed here are totally personal and do not intend to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments.

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