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TNN | New Delhi | Sep 11, 2017:: Laws should be equal for all citizens irrespective of religion, caste or gender.
The courts of India have been prodding successive governments to bring in a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) as enshrined in Article 44 of Indian Constitution. They raised this issue in 1985, 1995, 2015 and now again, while overturning triple talaq as bad in law. The triple talaq issue is definitely not about religion, it was about gender justice.
Many people wonder, what could have stopped Pandit Nehru from pushing the Uniform Civil Code through when he had massive support from within and outside the party in the 1950s?
Why did he stop at the Hindu Code Bill? The simple answer is lack of political courage. This was the reason why UCC became a part of the Constitution’s Directive Principles, stating, “The State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” It was a grave mistake not to do what was needed to reinforce the idea of an egalitarian democratic society. The golden hour was lost.
Champions of minority rights claim the UCC is an RSS conspiracy. They are blind to the fact that none of the members of the Constituent Assembly were RSS members. The courts that gave rulings against shariah or asked for a UCC were not controlled by the RSS. Let us not colour this debate by bringing in the RSS or Hindutva.
Contrary to public perception, the RSS was not in favour of a Uniform Civil Code or Hindu Code Bill being implemented by force. In an inter view to K R Malkani in August 1972, Guruji Golwalkar, who moulded RSS thought for 33 years, said, “If our objections to Muslim practices are on humanitarian grounds, then that becomes a valid objection.A reformist’s attitude in this matter is alright. But a mechanical leveller’s attitude would not be correct. Let the Muslims evolve their old laws.” Thus, the UCC is a highly desirable goal for the RSS, but the urge for reforms should ideal ly come from various communities.
From the authority of learned Muslim scholars I can say that the Shariah is not a divine god-given law.
The codification of Shariah, based on the Quran and Hadis (which were recorded over 2030 decades after the Prophet’s death) began at the time of Khalifa, nearly 30 years after death of Prophet Mohammed and was a work in progress for nearly 100 years. 90 percent of these laws have not come from Quran and they reflect the traditions of Arabic societies of those times. It is not uniform across all sects of Mus lims. It has been modified as per the local culture in different countries. Most Islamic countries have outlawed many clauses in the Shariah.
The way Muslim women have come out strongly against malpractices in the name of Shariah tells us that the urge for reforms is unstoppable now. The intransigence of orthodox clergy and their raising the bogey of religious freedom to force their patriarchal attitude built on a 1400-year-old Arabian tribal culture through unrepresentative bodies like AIMPLB tells us that the legislative path is the best way to bring in a UCC.
In a TV debate on NDTV in October 2015, where I was also on the panel, Father Shankar of Delhi Diocese said that though Catholics have their laws, they are clear that they must obey the laws of the land where they reside. He said that Christians would have no problem with the Uniform Civil Code. He rightly asked, where is this code? It has not been defined anywhere.
There is no case for the Hindu Code Bill being imposed as UCC. It may also have many infirmities. If a UCC means Hindus losing benefits like Hindu Undivided Family or extending this benefit to other communities, let it be. If it means equal inheritance rights for women, contrary to different rules in different communities, it would be great.If a UCC means easy divorce and an equal right for women to divorce, it is welcome. If a UCC means the easy adoption of children for families of any religion, it would be a great service to social well-being.
Simply put, the need for a Uniform Civil Code flows from the very definition of secularism. Secularism by Western definition is based on the sepa ration of church (religion) and state (government). If we go by the secular Indian ethos, respect for individual faiths is inherent in the Indian psyche.But it should not mean abandoning `Dharma’ in its pristine definition. Dharma holds society together through the ethical rule of law, not religion. It means justice for all. Only a society based on this Indian concept of `Dharma’ or `Dhamma’ can hold together and be just to its people.
Laws should be equal for all citizens irrespective of religion, caste or gender. In a secular democratic country , no religious law can be above the Constitution. If we can accept uniform criminal laws, then we should be ready to accept uniform civil laws. They don’t impinge upon one’s religion.
The miasma of civil laws has made lives very painful for people seeking justice. There is an urgent need to demystify civil laws for common people to seek easy and fast justice, just as there is a need to simplify outdated criminal laws.What is the use of laws if they mete out justice to a poor Shah Bano in three decades, or release an innocent person after 10-20 years in jail as undertrial? What is the use of laws that require a costly advocate to decipher them for a poor litigant and allow the cases to be dragged on for years, which break the willpower of the litigant rather than give justice?
Let us discuss and work towards a Uniform Civil Code, shorn of religious rhetoric, based on universal principles of equality before law.
(*Article by invitation: The writer is an RSS thinker and author of the book ‘Secrets of RSS’)
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