The Uniform Civil Code is presently gathering momentum and this is happening in 2 phases. The first is action against triple talaq, that the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, dominated by men, needs to retain.
Triple talaq is a fast divorce option for men, which several Muslim nations, including Pakistan, do not allow. The government needs to form it illegal and the courts are on its side.
Should this happen, we should always make preparations for a number of arrests. The second issue is the matter of polygamy, which is where the real interest of Hindutva lies. It is felt that polygamy is the instrument through which Muslims reproduce faster than Hindus and at some point will become a majority. The incidence of polygamy is actually higher among Hindus than Muslims according to the data, but the perception is powerful enough to drive this demand for the Uniform Civil Code.
Uniform Civil Code Explained as a Code Language
The historian Ramachandra Guha wrote a few days ago about why liberals and leftists (I think he meant communists but I could be wrong) should support the Uniform Civil Code and oppose polygamy. He classified their opposition to the Hindutva demand as being one of these seven things:
1) The reforms of Hindu personal law in the 1950s were not as progressive as they are made out to be.
2) The customary laws and practices of the Hindus today are often very reactionary, as for example in the khap panchayats.
3) The unreformed Muslim personal laws are not as reactionary as made out to be, and sometimes or often give women reasonable rights.
4) The customary practices of Muslims are also not as bad as claimed; thus Muslim polygamy does not discriminate against second or third wives in the manner that Hindu polygamy does or did.
5) The demand for a uniform civil code is motivated by the political agenda of the BJP.
6) Article 44 of the Constitution, asking for a Uniform Civil Code, clashes with Article 25, assuring the freedom to propagate religion.
7) There are many other Articles of the Constitution that remain unfulfilled; why then harp on this one?
In my opinion, Guha misses out one thing, the major one: why some liberals (meaning those who push for the rights of individuals) oppose this reform. That’s the correct of the woman, or the man, to become a second wife or a second husband (polyandry is practiced in some communities in India). It is true that a poll shows that 90 % of Muslim ladies oppose polygamy but then 90 % of Muslim ladies also live in monogamous marriages. It would be attention-grabbing to examine the data on how those inside polygamous marriages view the practice.
Guha says polygamy is an “abhorrent practice”, that must be “abolished at once”. This is in my opinion a moral judgment. The Indian law and successive governments have said the same thing regarding homosexuality. However the liberal can stand for the individual’s rights in that instance also. My guess is, having said all this, that the momentum has shifted on the problem. Triple talaq and polygamy are likely to be the next ground on that Hindutva can assert itself. And, as with other problems where this has happened, we should anticipate hassle.
Is there a provision in Indian constitution for Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?
The constitution has a provision for Uniform Civil Code in Article 44 as a Directive Principle of State Policy which states that “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”
What is the idea behind a uniform Civil Code for India?
Currently, believers of various religions will marry, adopt, inherit property and divorce under their own customs. Under a uniform Civil Code, it’s believed, personal laws and sanctioned practices of different religions are mostly harmonised with accepted fair practices for all citizens, under guidelines laid down by Constitution.
What is the controversy about?
Articles 29 and 30 guarantee minorities the right to conserve their culture and script, and run their own educational institutions. It was understood that minorities could practise their religion and follow their customs and traditions.
The Hindu right, 1st through the Jana Sangh and then the BJP, has been pushing for a ‘Common Civil Code’. But its argument is that Hindus have to abide by codified laws on marriage, adoption, inheritance and succession under a set of Acts brought in by the Jawaharlal Nehru government in the face of opposition from the Hindu orthodoxy.
Is Uniform Civil Code the same as Common Civil Code?
Law Minister Sadananda Gowda has been victimization the phrases interchangeably. However specialists say ‘Uniform’ (as suggested in the Constitution) doesn’t mean ‘Common’. Constitutional principles of fairness and equality must replicate in a uniform law, but minorities fear a “common” code, as propagated by the BJP, would be majoritarian.
Where do personal and civil laws conflict? Mostly on problems with marriage, adoption and inheritance. So where does the Special marriage Act come in?
Enacted in 1954, the Act permits people of India and all Indian nationals in foreign countries, irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party, to marry or divorce under it. The only exception is Jammu & Kashmir. A marriage performed under the Special marriage Act is a civil contract and, accordingly, doesn’t involve rites or ceremonial requirements.
Is the debate over Uniform Civil Code just a Hindu-Muslim issue?
Far from it. Parsis, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians, apart from of course Hindus and Muslims, have their own civil codes. While the Muslim Personal Law is yet to be codified (because of deep divisions within), Christian and parsi codes were specified before Independence. The personal laws of Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and others were codified within the 1950s.
Why is the Shah Bano case mentioned in this context?
There have so far been 2 attempts to codify Muslim law. One, the Shah Bano case, was created in independent India. But in 1986, the Supreme Court approved of extra alimony for Shah Bano, an Indore-based 62-year-old divorcee, from her former husband. The Muslim orthodoxy objected to both the alimony being imposed on the husband apart from the mehr fixed under nikaah, and to the way during which it was being done.
The government of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi succumbed to the pressure, and Parliament enacted a law diluting the ruling of the Supreme Court, via the Muslim women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. While this was subsequently changed by the courts. The Shah Bano case fuelled the debate over communities being allowed separate personal laws, with the BJP calling it Muslim “appeasement”.