The Law Commission’s notification and Mr. Modi’s strong advocacy for UCC has revived the debate around UCC yet again. As such UCC has been part of BJP’s elections Manifestoes all through. Its 1996 manifesto mentioned UCC under Nari Shakiti. Despite that it has never worked for the content of the draft. What will the laws of divorce, alimony, inheritance rights and custody of children be has not been delineated. The major reaction so far to it has been from Muslim personal Law Board and other sundry Muslim organizations in opposing it. This time around the UCC proposal is facing opposition from Adivasis groups, Sikh groups among others.
Santosh Tirkey a functionary of Kendriya Sarna Samiti stated that. “It (UCC) would infringe upon our customary laws of marriage, divorce, inheritance and transfer of land…” Another Adivasi group leader Ratan Tirke of Jharkhand stated that ““We will not only register our protest by sending emails to the law
commission but also stage a protest on the ground. Meetings are being planned to chalk out our strategies. The UCC will dilute the provisions of Fifth and Sixth Schedule of the Constitution…”
One of the Constituents of NDA and some BJP leaders from North East stated that they will stand to oppose it. To cap it all, Sushil Modi from BJP, Chairman of standing Committee of Law, has questioned the feasibility of UCC in tribal areas, including those in North East (IE, July 4, 2023).
As per Sikhs, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has expressed their opposition to the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and Akali leader Gurjeet Singh Talwandi has called upon Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC) not to dismiss the UCC as such but to initiate a dialogue with the law commission. Progressive Muslim groups like ‘Indian Muslims for Secular Democracy’, have called for religion neutral personal Laws.
The personal laws, family laws are different than the Civil and criminal laws which are uniform all over. The personal laws were formulated by British in consultation with the clerical elements of those religions. Among Hindus also there was no uniformity as Mitakshra and Dayabhag streams of laws were prevalent. The First Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, concerned about the inherent gender injustice within the personal laws called upon Ambedkar to begin with reforming the code for Hindus. Muslim personal law was not taken up for reform immediately after Partition; as in the shadow of the Partition riots, Government did not want to appear to thrust its will on the minority community. Later, some codification of Muslim laws was undertaken, and a reform in the Muslim law of declaring instant triple talaq as unconstitutional, was also done. It is true that the criminal provision was introduced to polarize the people and make the Muslims appear like law-breakers.
Ambedkar in all his fairness and longing for equality saw that Hindu personal laws are riddled with total subjugation of women through these laws. The opposition to the laws formulated in Hindu Code Bill by Ambedkar, based on gender equality, was so massive that the Bill had to be diluted and introduced in stages. The conservative section of Hindus, well backed up by the Hindu nationalist forces called for resignation of Ambedkar, who anyway was pained at this response and resigned from the Cabinet. The opposition to Hindu Code bill in its original form was articulated by Kalyan Magazine of Gita press, which has been awarded Gandhi Peace Prize by the present dispensation. “Until now, the Hindu public was taking his words seriously, but now it is confirmed that the Hindu Code Bill, introduced by Ambedkar, is the most important part of his conspiracy to destroy Hindu dharma. It would be a matter of great humiliation, shame for the Hindus and a blot on Hindu dharma if a man like him remains their law minister.”
The demand for UCC did come from the upcoming women’s movement, which came forth strongly particularly after Mathura rape case in early seventies. The presumption was uniformity will bring justice. Golwalkar, second Sarsanghchalak of RSS, in an interview given to K.R. Malakani of Organiser had opposed the idea of UCC due to diversity of the country. (23 August 1972) As such the argument proffered that UCC will strengthen National unity holds no water. Let’s have a look at America with fifty states, which have diverse laws! Most of the women’s groups also gradually started talking about Gender Justice rather than UCC. Can there be gender justice in matters of divorce, inheritance, custody of children by imposing any law, which is culled out from diverse existing codes?
Can a UCC be imposed just by a fiat? Can customary practices be done way by imposing UCC? This is the million rupee question. What is needed is to work for reform within the communities and strive for gender justice. It is true that the so called spokespersons of diverse communities may not be reflecting the opinion of the community as a whole and in particular, opinion of the women of the communities. It is men who have assumed upon themselves the role of leadership of the community, this also needs to be questioned. The simmering of women within different communities needs to be upheld and valued and has to be the central determinant factor in modifying and changing existing laws.
The very fact that BJP’s claims of empowering the women through UCC, are hollow. During nine years of its rule it could very well have initiated the process within different communities for such reforms. Many a women from within the community have been flagging these issues with little impact. To cap it all, the rising insecurity among minorities leads to the increasing communitarian power of the conservative elements.
BJP has the goal to polarize the communities along religious lines, so the present talk of bringing in UCC. A sincere effort will call for twin efforts to take to community along reform and to ensure that gender justice is kept at the center of the whole debate. There is a need to call for the draft of UCC, rather than saying yes or no to it. One hopes that saner voices among the Muslim community in particular will prevail and rather than blindly opposing it, they will call for the draft of UCC.
Surely BJP, which can give Gandhi Prize to organization like Gita Press is not at all interested in empowering the women, but knows well that Muslim fundamentalist organizations will cry hoarse to oppose the UCC, and help in the design of polarizing the communities in the forthcoming elections to benefit BJP electorally. All political forces in unison need to stand together and ask for the draft of UCC before offering and opinion on it.
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