Debating India

INDE

First a civil society, then codes

Nilanjana Bhaduri Jha

Tuesday 5 August 2003, by JHA*Nilanjana Bhaduri

NEW DELHI: "If UCC is supported only to favour women, then I am strongly against it. The current Hindu marriage Act is highly biased against men. Why should men give alimony to women and not the other way round? "

As the Uniform Civil Code debate gathers steam, an indiatimes reader, aripal, has added a new dimension to the various alignments. Political, religious and now gender. Reader opinions are even now pouring in on the controversial issue, with an overwhelming number endorsing the need for a common civil code.

But every "no" to the question "does India need a uniform civil code? " is an emphatic island in a sea of "yeses". There are detailed arguments like that from shaifuddintimes: "We have to be more pragmatic, today no country is safe, and all countries currently practice man-made rules, which cannot satisfy the problems of mankind. An example - only an engineer of the machines has the knowledge of wrongdoing, and how to repair and what precautions should be taken. Man is a very complicated machine and only the creator/engineer knows better, in this way only the Almighty’s rules will keep peace among mankind."

The reader is instantly rebutted by shilpa_9 who at the same time takes on aripal’s assertion: "Enforcement of the Uniform Civil Code, will first and foremost help in restricting the growing population. One way is depriving the Muslim men of polygamy rights (Which I think Mr. Shaifuddin doesn’t want to be deprived of, as understood from his comment). Population is just one problem that can be solved. Apart from this, every woman will be hoped to have equal rights as men in terms of Inheritance and divorce laws."

Amid the chorus of single word comments - "yes" - suhassinghnegi warns: "One nation one rule for every citizen of this country. If common civil code is not enforced than India will see a 1947 again." But mrizu contends: "Not at all. We will loose the beauty and basic essence of our culture and tradition. If we have UCC, many Modi(s) will emerge to brutally kill and murder minorities, especially Muslims. As a proud Indians, We strongly oppose UCC."

What does emerge from the response of readers is that the perception of Universal Civil Code being a Muslim versus non-Muslim issue does largely exist. But the divide on the issue can in no way be emphatically defined as a community-based one, though deep-rooted apprehensions need to be addressed.

There is after all the comment from house 345, who says: "Being a Muslim, I fully support the UCC law. India is a developing country, in order complete this transition, it will require people of all religions to contribute, even if this means they have to sacrifice some of their most rigid beliefs. But in order to do so the government needs to be ’truly’ secular, not like our present government that sends mixed signals to minorities whether they are Muslims/Sikhs or Christians. Take the example of changing the textbook for education system, yesterday’s PM speech, acquittals of Best bakery case, acquittal of Graham stain murderer etc. The bottom line is you cannot ask one community to change and at the same time taking another community to ’stone age’ just to win other election. Yes, I am talking about my Hindu brethren."

And then there are those ask, why just UCC? Most things, they suggest, need to be changed in a system creaking under the weight of corruption and misgovernance.

"What India needs now on an urgent basis is a uniform code to harness and reign in all the crooked and corrupt politicians. There should be a uniform education system for all politicians or all those aspiring for political roles. There should also be a dress code for the elected representatives. I’m sure only then will we be able to attain a higher level of national integration. At the moment the Uniform Civil Code is politically motivated and mischievous in nature", says ems_menezes.

Adds mittalsudhanshu: "India needs not just a UCC, but a secular constitution. A secular constitution cannot have provisions for different religious/sects. It cannot have provisions for reservations on the basis of caste, it cannot have separate income tax law for Hindu Undivided Family and it cannot have banning of cow slaughter since those all are peculiar to Hindu religion."

And mattjaco, who points out: "I think India needs to re-write the entire constitution/law and order to make India a developed nation for its citizen and others to enjoy. What I am talking about here? As an instance I visited India few months ago; when you go to cities/towns, the crowd and no law and order situation make you miserable. Anyone thought about it? "

Harsher words still from baniamujumdar: "Leave us alone - how we marry, live, divorce, inherit etc. is none of your business. Do not shed your crocodile tears for us. First build a civil society, then talk of civil codes."

And why just a common civil code? Anjum Bawa takes the argument forward: "I guess the most important thing for the coming generation is to realise that if they need to keep all parts of the country together, then having a common spoken language is really necessary. Language is the single most uniting factor if a country wants to stay and grow together."

The need for national integration is a leitmotif and many readers agree with the BJP that a uniform civil code will help strengthen that in the country. "Yes, India needs a uniform civil code. Because the laws made during English rule were only to help the English. Every body knows that they ruled India for 180 years only by divide and rule. Now all the political and common people should come forward, live undivided."

Advise from raju_rieter 2002, who finds echo in the words of saisureshsai: "A nation can have different culture, race, or anything and the only binding factor to be called as a nation should be its own laws. All the laws should be applicable to every body and so it should be uniform."

Another reader uses some hard-hitting sarcasm to make the same point: "No we do not need a uniform civil code. That way we can give something for the Sangh Parivar to fight upon and make the point against minorities. The minorities made the mistake of making Ayodhya an issue... and indirectly led the BJP to power. Now they are giving one more reason for the saffron hawks to talk about. Way to go minorities... keep fighting... the only beneficiary in your fight is the Saffron Parivar."

Many readers, fed up with the politicisation of the entire issue, beg for relief from vote-bank politics. They see in the controversy vested interests keeping it alive to further communal divide in Indian society. And there are long letters agonising over this, contrary perceptions and inherent suspicions.

But when bihari_dude makes his point, he does so succinctly: "Ek Desh - Ek Kanoon. Yehi Hai Insaaf. Jai Hind."

P.S.

Does India really need a Uniform Civil Code?

The answer seems to depend entirely on which side of the political spectrum one is speaking from.

Always a contentious issue and a pet project of the Sangh Parivar, the Uniform Civil Code is one of the three controversial points on its electoral agenda that the BJP had to drop to forge the National Democratic Alliance. Those for a UCC cite national integration as a reason, those against say it will be used as a tool to annihilate minority identity.

Social commentators say the only real issue is needed to reform "Anglo-Mohammedan law on marriage and divorce now in force, which is oppressive to women and is contrary to Islam." Others argue that the entire developed world has a uniform civil code.

The UCC will affect only personal laws based on religion - those relating to marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance. Criminal and civil laws are already common for all citizens. The advocates of such a code cite Article 44 of the Constitution under Directive Principles of State Policy, which provides: The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.

A UCC will most affect

Marriage: In almost all recent cases where the need for a UCC has been emphasised women were at the receiving end of torture in the garb of religious immunity. Apart from the famous Shah Bano (1986) and Sarla Mudgal (1995) cases, there have been several other pleas by Hindu wives whose husbands converted to Islam only in order to get married again without divorcing the first wife.

Divorce: All major religions have their own laws that govern divorces within their own community, and there are separate regulations under the Special Marriage Act, 1956 regarding divorce in interfaith marriages. Under a common civil code, one law would govern all divorces. More ?

Inheritance: Patriarchy is the basis of personal law, regardless of community. Inheritance laws have created less noise and debate than marriage and divorce laws, mainly because in this regard social inequity has cut across communities. And women, for most part repressed and unaware of even the rights that exist, have been unable to secure them. More ?

Adoption: Of all aspects of personal laws, those of guardianship, custody of children and adoption are the most inextricably linked to religion and culture. This is about bloodlines and perpetuation. And with children and young people involved, can have serious implications. A UCC will affect laws on adoption and therein could lie a lot of resistance.

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