For the third time this year, in October 2015, the Supreme Court asked the Central government whether it was willing to come forward with a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) to get rid of the legal mess created by different religious personal laws.
Few days later, the Gujarat high court made a strong pitch for a uniform civil code and called for the abolition of polygamy in Muslim society in India as it’s a “heinously patriarchal” act. It said the Quran was being “misinterpreted by some Muslim men” to get away with more than one marriage. The court was adjudicating on a petition by a Muslim man who faced bigamy charges after marrying for a second time without his first wife’s consent.
Citing history, Justice Pardiwala said “The Quran allowed conditional polygamy to protect orphans and their mothers from an exploitative society… When men use that provision today, they do it for a selfish reason.”
To be fair to the Muslim community, not all such cases involve Muslims. There have been other instances; but they all point to the need for implementing the UCC.
The debate on the Uniform Civil Code is not a new one. It has existed right since independence and reached its peak in the mid -80s after the Supreme Court verdict in the famous Shah Bano case.
The Shah Bano case of 1985 stirred up a heated debate surrounding Muslim Personal Laws and underscored the urgent need for a UCC. It also exposed Congress’ spineless conduct when PM Rajiv Gandhi (an educated ex-pilot!) meekly gave in to the protesting Muslim clergy – as part of its traditional Muslim appeasement and ‘vote bank’ politics.
What is Shah Bano Case?
Shah Bano, an elderly Muslim lady and mother of five, was divorced by her husband. He refused to pay her maintenance beyond the period of iddat (90 day period after divorce in which she cannot remarry) arguing that the Muslim Personal Law allows only that much.
But the Supreme Court granted her maintenance for life under Section 125 of the Cr.P.C (according to which he had to maintain her until she remarries or dies, if she has no means of her own for survival). The Supreme Court held that the Cr.P.C. was common for all and that she could claim maintenance under it. Thus the Court over ruled the Muslim Personal Law.
Predictably, the Muslim clergy made it a big issue and called it an assault on Islam and their so-called outdated Shari’ah law. Rajiv Gandhi soon went into ‘appeasement mode’ and hurriedly passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 to nullify the SC verdict.
It is another story that later the SC nullified this new Act and restored its verdict in favor of Shah Bano. On the brighter side, many Muslims including the All India Shia Personal Law Board supported this order. Congress still fails to acknowledge that progressive Muslims want UCC! For Muslim appeasement politicians radical mullahs alone speak for all Indian Muslims.
Indian Muslim Clergy is Mentally Stuck in the 7th Century Arab World!
The reason why Muslims are blamed for putting obstacles in the way of UCC is exemplified by this case. It reflected the typical ossified Mullah mindset and their morbid resistance to change with time. I have yet to see a convincing research on why, in the 21st century, Islamic leaders still want to live like uncivil Arab tribes of 7th century in the name of Sharia Law and ‘Real’ Islam!
It is a shame that even in the 21st century, Indian Muslim clergy doesn’t want to free Muslim women from the oppressive practices like one sided verbal ‘triple talaq’ and polygamy. It defies all commonsense why the Muslim clergy doesn’t want to allow freedom and gender equality to women. It is also shameful when the appeasement politicians give more importance to backward looking Islamic clergy, and not to so many other liberal Muslim voices.
… And it is happening in a modern multi-cultural democracy like India!
The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, which lobbies for Shari’ah law in family matters, is totally opposed to UCC. What Indian Mullahs fail to understand is that the Muslim Personal Law of India is not a Shari’ah law; is just an Anglo-Mohamedan Law written by the British almost a century ago. They also fail to note how even Islamic nations are being liberal. For instance, polygamy is banned in Turkey and Tunisia and the system of triple talaq has been rationalized in several Islamic countries including Pakistan and Bangladesh.
But appeasement politicians have surrendered country’s interest are making mockery of secularism and the right to equality. They have no shame in ignoring liberal Muslim voices – who surely outnumber these few over pampered rigid brains.
How long progressive Indians have to put up with the ossified and backward looking mindset of tiny Muslim clergy, even in the 21st century world – is the question 99.9% Indians want to ask!
History of UCC
Actually, the issue of UCC dates back to the colonial period when the British applied a common criminal code on all but allowed different religious communities the freedom to have their own religious laws for personal matters. These different personal laws dealt with the matters involving marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance in the respective religious communities.
Constitution makers debated these personal laws extensively. Progressive thinkers saw them as divisive and wanted a Uniform Civil Code – in order to create a sense of common Indian national identity and eradicate castist and religious mindset. But opponents argued that it would destroy the cultural identity of minorities (it’s a typical appeasement Indian mindset!). Thus, a compromise was reached – the UCC was placed under the Directive Principles (these are non-binding), but which the state shall endeavour to achieve.
Thus, we have Article 44 of the Constitution which says: “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” And there is Article 14 which ensures right to equality for all citizens. The Shah Bano case was founded on Article 14 as she protested unequal treatment.
Unfortunately, Congress governments of past six decades have failed to take the country forward even an inch on the UCC, largely to please handful backward-looking Mullahs for ‘vote bank’ politics.
India has 5 Different Personal Laws!
Thus, India has several personals laws governing different religious communities.
One is the Hindu Marriage Act which is applicable over majority people following India born Dharma-based life philosophies – Hindus, Buddhists, Jains or Sikhs. [By the way, none of these life philosophies are religions in the strict sense ‘religion’ is defined in the West. But out Constitution makers made a terrible mistake when they equated profound ‘Dharma’ with narrow ‘religion’.] In fact, there are three other acts: the Hindu Succession Act, the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act. They were all passed during 1955-56.
The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 has largely remained untouched because Muslim clergy is highly resistance to change. The Christian Marriage Act, 1872 is applicable on all Indian Christians (except in the state of Goa) and their divorce related matters fall under the Indian divorce act of 1869. The tiny Parsee community is covered under the Parsee Marriage and Divorce Act.
There is also a Special Marriages Act, 1954 which allows marriage irrespective of the religions of the man and woman involved.
Hurdle to UCC
Technically speaking, the UCC debate would have to reconcile the Article 25, which guarantees the freedom to practise, profess and propagate any religion. Thus, it is understandable that governments have been reluctant to touch Personal Laws or talk of UCC. However, Clause (2) of Article 25 empowers the State to frame any law to regulate or restrict “secular activity which may be associated with religious practice”. Therefore, it is argued that Article 25 is no bar to having a Uniform Civil Code.
Implementing UCC would greatly aid Article 14 that ensures the right to equality for all Indians – definitely including Muslim women.
The overly pampered Mullahs are the biggest barrier in the implementation of UCC. They derive their power from the minority appeasement and ‘vote bank’ politics of Congress and other parties. Most ridiculously, they call themselves ‘secular’. The moment the topic of UCC comes up these so-called ‘secular’ leaders immediately label it as an attempt to impose Hindu code – it misguides and instils fear psychosis among Christians and Muslims – synonyms for ‘minorities’.
However Goa Civil Code shows that the enactment of a UCC is indeed feasible in India.
UCC is a priority only for the BJP, Shiv Sena and other ‘India-first’ nationalist parties. Therefore, all progressive minded Indians should glue together to support these parties and defeat the self-serving appeasement politics of Congress and its ilk.
Modi’s leadership qualities certainly inspire all patriots and nationalists. Let’s see when India takes the big leap to treat its citizens equally.