Prashanth comments: “More relevant is sexually biased Muslim personal law in India. But confrontation would only lead to ruin.”
It is a misunderstanding that personal laws have been setup to favor muslims and disfavor hindus. The reality is that personal laws (as of today) give hindu women slightly more protection than muslim women. However much more progress can be made so that all women receive the protection of the law. Ambedkar famously resigned in protest because he could not tolerate the intolerance of religious scriptures commanding people to do foolish/horrible stuff.
Now of course the opinion makers will claim that UCC is a distraction, there are more pressing problems. The vanity of this claim is two fold a) People who support UCC are somehow not in favor of poverty eradication, sanitation etc., b) Supporting UCC is “communal” because the BJP is in favor of it.
Here is historian Ramchandra Guha on the UCC-
Article 44 of the Constitution of India reads: ‘The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India’.
The first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the first Law Minister, Dr B. R. Ambedkar, were both modernists who wished to reform archaic personal laws and bring them in line with progressive notions of gender justice. They were both committed, in theory, to a Uniform Civil Code. However, faced with the bitter opposition of Muslim members in the Constituent Assembly, they decided to begin with the reform of the personal laws of the Hindus, a community whose liberal wing was both influential and articulate. All the same, it took them all of eight years to pass the laws that finally made caste irrelevant in marriage, allowed Hindu women the right to choose or divorce their marriage partners, abolished bigamy and polygamy among Hindus, and granted Hindu daughters and wives rights in the property of their fathers and husbands.
The opposition to the reform of the Hindu personal laws was led by the Jana Sangh (forerunner of today’s Bharatiya Janata Party) and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. The RSS held hundreds of meetings throughout India, where the proposals to outlaw bigamy and to give women property rights were denounced in the strongest language. The Hindu right claimed that, as one born in a low-caste home, Dr Ambedkar had no business or authority to interpret or override the Hindu shastras. The laws being drafted to allow personal choice in marriage and inheritance rights to daughters were denounced as ‘an Atom Bomb on Hindu society’.
On the other side, the socialists and Communists chastised the Government for not reforming the personal laws of all communities. In the Lok Sabha, a Communist member named B. C. Das called the new laws for Hindus ‘a mild, moderate attempt at social reform with all the hesitancy and timidity characteristic of all social measures sponsored by this Government’. The great socialist Parliamentarian J. B. Kripalani told the Government that ‘you must bring it [the new laws] also for the Muslim community. Take it from me that the Muslim community is prepared to have it but you are not brave [enough] to do it’.
Such were the alignments in the 1950s; how different are the alignments now! For the past two decades, the BJP and the RSS have insisted that since the Hindu laws were reformed, the Muslims should also follow suit. The demand gathered pace after the Shah Bano controversy, and has figured heavily in the oral rhetoric and printed publications of the BJP through the 1990s and beyond. On the other side, those professedly secular parties, the Congress and the Communists, are now bitterly opposed to the framing of a Uniform Civil Code.
The debates of the 1990s and beyond have thus placed the major political parties in exactly the opposite positions as they had found themselves in the 1950s. Then, the Jana Sangh and the RSS had opposed the granting of equal rights to Hindu women; now, they say that they stand for equal rights for Muslim women. Then, the Congress and the Left had supported and indeed had passed personal laws in favour of the majority of Indian women; now, they say they are not in favour of a further extension to Muslim women.
It is difficult to credit the BJP with being seriously committed to ensuring justice to Muslim women. In their six years in office, they did not make the slightest attempt to introduce legislation in Parliament that would, for example, have abolished polygamy, enhanced the rights of widows and divorced women, or mandated gender-neutral property and inheritance laws…..
……But, as Shabana Azmi has pointed out, ‘for far too long women have been victimized and justice has been denied to them under the pretense of personal law’. This is true of formal Muslim law but also of customary Hindu law, as in the still powerful caste councils that ostracize women who dare marry outside their community. There is thus ‘an urgent need to cull out the just and equitable laws of all religions and form a blueprint for a uniform civil code based on gender justice’.
The first woman Chief Justice, Leila Seth, has persuasively argued that a common civil code ‘will help break down those customary practices harmful to women and give women individual identity as independent citizens of India’. To the fear that such a code would imperil religious freedom, Justice Seth has this answer: ‘A uniform civil code will not take away the right to perform religious ceremonies and rituals; but would any woman object to a code that gives her equal property rights, protection from polygamy and arbitrary divorce, and the right to adopt and the right to inheritance even if her father or husband converts to another religion?’
It is a sad (but tolerable) fact of life that one will be tagged communal, anti-poverty, anti-XXX etc as a price for demanding equal laws for all. If you are in the company of Justice Seth, Shabana Azmi, Kripalani and Ambedkar you are not likely to be in great danger of committing moral crimes.
But what about the secular brigade whose actions (lack of) help keep women down by proclaiming that UCC will somehow prevent India from the pressing need of constructing toilets and subsidizing food for the poor? I just wish they had the courage of their convictions to admit that confrontation with forces of darkness will only lead to ruin.
PS CPI(M) Politburo statement on UCC (2003):
Given the context of the offensive of communal politics practiced by the Hindutva platform and the ensuing insecurity among the minorities, particularly the Muslim community, the recommendation by the Supreme Court for a Uniform Civil Code, instead of helping “the cause of national integration”, will have the reverse effect.
Many of the personal laws of different communities including those of the majority community discriminate against women and are not in consonance with the rights accorded to Indian citizens by the Constitution of India. What is urgently required is reform in various personal laws. This is an exercise that brooks no delay.
At least they admit (how can they not) that urgent reform of (all) personal laws is required. Just dont call it UCC. Most importantly I dont see any reference to “if UCC happens what will happen to food subsidy.” As to how reform will happen, when the various Law Boards folks are ultra-conservative and resistant to change? The silence is impressively golden.