For the sake of argument, let’s assume a UCC — a key point in the BJP election manifesto of 2014, so hardly a rabbit it has suddenly pulled out of its hat — is a part of the RSS agenda. So what? The RSS has, on occasion, come up with some pretty good ideas. Like backing the Congress on the Land Acquisition and Food Security Acts and on the shelving of Bt Brinjal. To junk the UCC because it has Nagpur’s fingerprints all over it is like opting for a drastic rhinoplasty to spite your face.
Have your cake and eat it too, pretty much sums up the attitude of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (and its liberal cheerleaders) to the proposed Uniform Civil Code. It’s comforting to live in a secular nation, as long as secular notions don’t interfere with the exercise of gender discriminatory personal law. Chucking polygamy and triple talaq, it would appear, will deal a death blow to pluralism.
Let’s face it. The UCC is an idea whose time has come. The arguments against it are compelling in their fatuousness, from the AIMPLB’s contention that polygamy is actually good for women to the mystifying assertion (by Left liberals) that a uniform civil code is a good idea, but not when a BJP-led government is in power. That, somehow, makes the whole concept of equality before law non-kosher.
The perfectly plain and simple question, whether women – Muslim, Hindu, Christian or Laveyan Satanist – merit the same protection under law that all citizens of India enjoy, is met with knotty dissertations on why the existing system of Muslim personal law is actually quite nice to women. Shah Bano, god rest her soul, didn’t think so. Nor do the millions of Muslim women who live in fear of the three little words (80 per cent of divorcees in the community are women, says the 2011 Census. No surprises there).
A third set of apologists says reforms towards gender justice should be left to the community. This grudging acknowledgment of judicial pressure and growing unrest among Muslim women, who’ve had it up to the gills with conservative interpretations of personal law, is hardly credible. The clerics’ disinclination to change was evident in 1986, when it bullied the Congress regime into nullifying the Supreme Court judgment upholding a divorced Muslim woman’s right to maintenance. It’s been 30 years and women have come a long way, which makes the AIMPLB’s stance downright anachronistic and about as graceless as Donald Trump’s company manners.
It’s not about women, squawk the hens on the Left. They see the UCC as an insidious attempt to dilute the identity and curb the freedoms of India’s most vocal minority. But then, the infamous law which set aside the Shah Bano judgment was called the “Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986”. Talk about getting it backwards. If it is simplistic to see a UCC in gender parity terms, how about in terms of equality before law?
The Judiciary, in its wisdom, has been in favour of a UCC and clearly does not see it as impinging on religious freedoms mandated by the Constitution of India. The other way round, in fact. Starting with the Shah Bano judgment, the apex court has repeatedly coaxed and sometimes hectored Parliament to draw up a law that ensures justice and legal parity for all. Parliament has been chary of doing so, for fear of alienating India’s most powerful minority – and that part of the majority which enjoys a tax shelter in the form of the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). The abolition of the HUF and the introduction of a universally applicable gender-just succession law, which the UCC would entail, is unlikely to go down well with the patriarchy, regardless of faith. So, hats off to this or any other dispensation brave enough to bring in a Uniform Civil Code. Bring it on.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume a Uniform Civil Code – a key point in the BJP election manifesto of 2014, so hardly a rabbit it has suddenly pulled out of its hat – is a part of the RSS agenda. So what? The RSS has, on occasion, come up with some pretty good ideas. Like backing the Congress on the Land Acquisition and Food Security Acts and on the shelving of Bt Brinjal. To junk the UCC because it has Nagpur’s fingerprints all over it is like opting for a drastic rhinoplasty to spite your face. It’s quite as silly as the widely circulated Whatsapp post inviting Muslim clerics opposed to the UCC, to adopt Sharia law in all its severity.
Likewise, saying that the UCC will lead to an unconscionable dilution of the secular fabric of India makes no sense. After all, it is not directed at one community alone, the AIMPLB’s paranoia regardless – everyone will be affected and will, in all probability, protest quite as loudly. A code which applies to all citizens, regardless of gender, caste, creed or community, cannot be sectarian.