Has anybody seen a draft or a whitepaper on Uniform Civil Code for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a strong pitch recently? The answer is No because the 22nd Law Commission has just invited suggestions from people, professionals, and recognized religious bodies in the country on this subject. But, already there is a hue and cry by the usual suspects among Opposition leaders and Muslim clerics ascribing motives to the good intentions of the Prime Minister to initiate a debate to weed out or correct certain social ills of child marriage, inheritance, marriage practices and divorce, alimony, child custody, adoption, and population and add certain social norms under a codified bill that contains laws in tune with modern times.
A half-hearted attempt was made by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948 to bring UCC but developed cold feet because of Muslim backlash that resulted in a truncated form in the shape of the Hindu Code Bill. Both the political and religious leaders, at that time, vehemently opposed the Bill when B.R. Ambedkar introduced it in the Parliament. N.C. Chatterjee and Shyama Prasad Mukherjee of the Hindu Mahasabha and Swami Karpatriji, a sanyasi who belonged to the Dandis, one of the orders founded by Adi Shankara felt that the Bill was a threat and interference to traditional forms of marriage and the family in Hindu society. But, despite the Opposition, the Bill breathed life into India and certain concepts that were alien to the Hindu way of life like divorce, polygamy, inheritance, inter-caste marriage, adoption, and succession were brought in the form of laws. This was the first step towards women’s empowerment in modern India.
Why are Indian Muslims against UCC? We need to understand the root cause. Not all Muslims are opposing, only the orthodox ones as they feel being targeted. When compared to all other religious laws, Hindu personal laws are the most secular and open-minded and ready to reform and evolve.
In comparison, this is not true with Muslim Personal Law or Sharia which is extracted from Quran and Hadiths and is considered the word of Allah and hence, unalterable. The orthodox clerics have put in the minds of the Indian Muslims that UCC is an attack on Islam by Hinduizing their laws; this impression needs to be dispelled by calling out the bluff of polarizing leaders of local religious parties, hand-in-glove with Muslim clerics.
The availability of Internet access is the game changer that is impacting the educated Muslim class to understand the real meaning of their religion so clandestinely misinterpreted and hidden from them. No religion should teach violence. Today, they are exposed to the reforms that are happening in the very place where Islam originated. In Saudi Arabia and other Middle East Muslim countries, the orthodoxy of the clerics has reduced tremendously. As an example, Ramayana and Mahabharata and practicing yoga have become part of their education system that was hitherto, considered blasphemous; there are several examples to emulate. Modi’s greatest contribution to alleviating the sufferings of Muslim women in India is by eradicating the evil practice of Triple Talaq which is highly appreciated, though silently for fear of their lives and ostracization from the society. So far, they were unaware that a Muslim country like Egypt banned this evil practice almost 90 years ago followed by Qatar, Jordan, and Indonesia. The Indian Muslim community that has a soft corner for Pakistan did not know that this practice is also banned in that country long ago! This is the kind of information that was hidden from Indian Muslims and was taken for a ride by the mullahs in the country.
What the Modi government is trying to do is to save innocent victims, irrespective of religion, especially women, who were always exploited, historically, in religious belief systems with no defense. Why should women suffer because of outdated religious laws of 1400 years ago? Why should a Muslim woman suffer if her brother denies her fair share of inheritance from her father’s estate? What defense do women with 5 children have if their husband divorces her orally and refuses to give her alimony on religious grounds? Recollect what the greatest disservice Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did to the nation by appeasing the mullah community in the case of Shah Bano.
To my mind, UCC is not intended to harm 21 crore Indian Muslims or take away their religious freedom as they are now a part of an Indian family. The intention is not to create uniformity of customs but to create uniformity of justice, very well said by Arif Mohammed Khan, Governor of Kerala. The code is to guarantee and protect the rights of millions of Muslim women who are denied what is lawfully theirs. I feel UCC may not magically solve all problems faced by India but it is a right step by the Modi government that needs to be supported by every citizen of our country.
Let us overcome once and for all, the fear of appeasement of the Muslims community for vote bank politics that made Nehru buckle under pressure, or maybe his actions were dictated by the compulsions of the times to keep India united. It is time now to support Prime Minister Modi who is not guided by appeasements of any kind and is on the path to change the destiny of India as a Vishwa Guru. (The author is a Former Chief Scientist, NGRI, Hyderabad)