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Uniform Civil Code: ARE RAM-RAHIM POLITICAL GODS?, By Poonam I Kaushish, 5 July, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 5 July 2016

Uniform Civil Code


By Poonam I Kaushish


Secularism has always been the Hindutva Brigade’s bug bear and political untouchability the Congress catch word. Whereby, Ram, Allah and Jesus have been reduced to being political poll cut outs. Today, they might need to take a back seat if the Modi Sarkar has his way and say: Of knitting India’s diverse social fabric into one nation via the contentious Uniform Civil Code (UCC). What’s new?


An inkling that the Government is thinking along these lines was evident when it resurrected its pet hobby horse and sent it to the Law Commission to examine how separate “personal laws” could be replaced with the Code. No biggie as the UCC was part of BJP’s election manifesto in 2014 which argued that there cannot be gender equality till such time India adopts the Uniform Code which protects the rights of all women without any caste or religious discrimination.


Predictably, the Congress-led Opposition cries foul. ‘The BJP is whipping up the issue with an eye on the UP elections early next year.” True, this is the second time the Modi Government is trying to move ahead on the UCC. Last July during Parliament’s monsoon session, in an innocuous reply during Question Hour, Law Minister Gowda talked of the Government holding “wide stakeholder consultation” on Article 44 of the Constitution.


However, this time around, the stars and Supreme Court seem favourably inclined. Recall, over the years it has tried four times to resurrect the campaign for enactment of a common civil code, (Shah Bano 1985, Christian priest John 2003, Muslim women Imrana 2005) the latest last October, when the Apex Court heard a bunch of petitions by Muslim women challenging the validity of triple talaq and polygamy permitted by Islamic personal law which resulted in gender discrimination.

Stating there was “total confusion” in the country due to various personal laws governing religious practices, the three-judge Bench asked the NDA Government whether “gender discrimination” suffered by Muslim women was not a violation of the Fundamental Rights under Articles 14, 15 and 21. Further it wanted the Centre to clarify if it was willing to implement the Uniform Civil Code.

Arguably, what is it about the Code that makes the political tribe other than the Hindutva Brigade see red? Add to it the Congress’s banal pantomime of puerile lame excuses which add up to “appeasement of the minorities” (read Muslims) at all costs.


Article 44 simply states: The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”. Is it written in French? Or, Italian? Bluntly, the Article simply spells out that there is no necessary connection between religious and personal law in a civilized society. 


Raising a moot point: Why should a common civil code be viewed as encroaching on the right of religious freedom? Or being anti-minority? If Hindu personal law can be modernized and a traditional Christian custom struck down as unconstitutional, why should Muslim personal law be treated as being sacred to the secular cause?

Alas, over the years deliberate distortions of religion to suit narrow personal and political ends had vitiated the country, which shamelessly, has everything to do with vote-bank politics. All deliberately ignore and obfuscate a crucial fact that the Father of the Constitution Ambedkar advocated “optional” common civil code.

During a debate in the Constituent Assembly on Article 35 (now 44) on November 3, 1948 when three Muslim members opposed the Article as it would interfere with their right to follow their own personal law, Babasaheb made two observations.  One, the Muslim Personal Law was not immutable and uniform throughout India, contrary to what had been stated in the amendments (moved by the Muslims members).

Two, the Article merely proposes that the State shall endeavour to secure a civil code for its citizens, not that after the code is framed States shall enforce it upon all merely because they are citizens. It is possible that a future Parliament might make a provision in the initial stage of the Code being purely voluntary.

Significantly, one fails to understand why the Common Civil Code is viewed by some as anti-minority? Article 44 was given to us by Nehru, Maulana Azad and Sardar Patel, not by Modi or the RSS. Does this make them communal, even Hindu fundamentalists? 


Today’s Congressmen have conveniently forgotten that the Constitution was framed by their leaders to ensure the country’s secular fabric remained intact. Can the Party claim to be secular when it has no qualms of conscience in joining hands with the Indian Union Muslim League in Kerala to win elections and form a Government?


Surprisingly, even educated and liberal Muslims have chosen to remain silent on the subject. Are they not aware that many Islamic countries have codified and reformed the Muslim Personal Law to check its abuse?  Polygamy has been banned in Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Iran and even Pakistan. All this raises the question: Should the State discriminate by caste and religion?  Never, in a secular State.


Regrettably, in present day politico-social reality Ambedkar’s sound advice is ignored and dismissed as a utopian hypothesis and Article 44 has remained a dead letter. Whereby, successive Governments have failed to draw a distinction between politics, caste and religion.


Worse, both Hindus and Muslims seem to have lost sight of the essentials of their respective religions. Even the educated are speaking the language barely distinguishable from that of Hindu-Muslim fundamentalists. Their stock answer to every critique: Religion is in danger.

Where do we go from here?  Clearly, in an atmosphere vitiated by both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalist it all depends on whether the Government is willing to get rid of its excess baggage of isms and instead bank on genuine secularism. Remember, there is no mysticism in the secular character of the State.

The State in a true democracy is neither anti-God nor pro-God.  It is expected to treat all religions and people alike and ensure that no one is discriminated against on the ground of religion. India and its secularism deserve a voluntary common civil code for gradual acceptance without further delay as it will help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties in laws which have conflicting ideologies.

Enlightened opinion among the Muslims will then have a choice; be liberal and progressive or remain obscurantist and backward. Goa has had a common civil code for long, thanks to its Portuguese rulers. Importantly, it has been willingly accepted by all, creating a Goan identity.

Ultimately, no one community should be allowed the veto or block progressive legislation.  Especially if it is voluntary and does not seek to impose any view or way of life on any one arbitrarily.  Enough needs to be viewed as enough and action taken forthwith to implement Article 44. 

India needs to be taken towards genuine secularism and genuine national integration. What gives? ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and  Feature Alliance)

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