The raging debate in India over the last few months has been the issue of the rising powers of the right wing Hindu fundamentalists. The loss of the Majority Party in the Centre (BJP) in the 2015 Bihar state elections was seen as a victory for secularism, so much so that it made the Dalai Lama endorsed the portraayal that the majority of Hindus still believed in harmony. The disgraceful polarizing tactics employed by the BJP made the defeat a public mandate against communal politics. In such a volatile atmosphere, the debate for a Uniform civil code is seen with a great layer of suspicion by the religious minorities. However, if a straightforward answer to communal disharmony is to be created then it is precisely this code. B.R. Ambedkar, the mind that drafted the Indian constitution rightly said, "I personally do not understand why religion should be given this vast, expansive jurisdiction, so as to cover the whole of life and to prevent the legislature from encroaching upon that field. After all, what do we have this liberty for? We have this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is so full of inequities, discriminations and other things, that create a conflict between our fundamental rights."
Article 44 of the Indian constitution spells out the responsibility of the state to ensure and create a uniform civil code, it is a directive principle, not justiciable but necessary nonetheless. Since 1956, the state has failed without much effort. The mere fact that every religious group has its own personal laws, which has jurisprudence over the constitution, makes peripheral religious leaders more powerful as the union parliament (Sounds grammatically incorrect plus ??). Gender equality is a concept that suffers most, as was highlighted in the 1985 Shah Bano case where a 62-year-old Muslim woman, mother of five, found herself divorced with no alimony. This is not just confined to one religious group either, the Rakhmabai case of 1984 and Mary Roy case of 1986 suggest the same. The louder the noise of these fundamentalist leaders gets, the more cracks will appear in the national portrait. (The flow breaks here, you randomly go from talking about divorce without alimony in different religious groups to the plight of artists. Therefore I broke it off into a new paragraph. Always have a paragraph per idea so that you give each item equal weightage and if not then put 2 small ideas in one para after one strong argument in another para so at least your essay looks vaguely structured and not like you’re run out of things to say for certain arguments.)
Intolerance due to this is seen to be on the rise and so far 33 national literary awards have been returned in protest. An example of the plight of artists is seen in the case of renowned musician and academy award winner A.R Rehman who suffered the wrath of a ‘fatwa’ passed against him by the Sunni Muslims when he composed music for a Shia film in Iran. The coffers of these religious headmen flourishes with the increasing divide between communities.
The question that this essay will answer however is not of the relevance of the code but what laws it should bring about to neutralize the inhibitions of the minorities and at the same time enact the right to equality all citizens deserve. The necessity of the bill could be primarily two fold, to ensure gender equality as well as religious harmony. The reality of Indian society today is that it still strongly holds, after 60 odd years of independence, a patriarchal mindset. The literacy rate of women stands at 65.46% compared to a 82.14% of their male counterparts and, to quote Sonali Das in an IMF working paper on March 2015,
“India has one of the lowest female labor force participation (FLFP) rates— typically measured as the share of women that are employed or seeking work as a share of the working-age female population — among emerging markets and developing countries. At around 33 percent at the national level in 2012, India’s FLFP rate is well below the global average of around 50 percent and East Asia average of around 63 percent.”
This is even after India has a rural employment guarentee scheme in place that states a right to livelihood is a fundamental right. What is being pointed out here is that there exists a large female population which is illetarate and unemployed despite the constitutions best intentions. These women, post marriage, are completely dependant on their spouse for their survival. The Muslim personal law, for example, recognises divorce by simply repeating the word ‘talaq’ three times. In 2014, a musim woman stood divorced when her husbands email arrived with the triple talaq (explain that, the sentence could be interpreted in 2 different ways) . She isnt the only victim considering that muslim religious leaders have recognised this process even through Whatsapp in certain cases. Aside from low security in their married life (as no grounds need be specefied) they are post their divorce entitled to a sum (meher) decided decades ago and is least fruitful for their sustainance. Similarily, the Hindu marriage act which was passsed despite strong opposition has glaring loopholes in itself while the Christian personal law doesn’t recognise the provision of divorce itself. The uniform civil code must ensure that the provisions of the special marriage act (1954) are applied nationally and every woman is ensured her alimony and her share in their common wealth. Along with this, laws that seek to make public spaces as well as the workplace safer for women must be implemented according to the justice verma committee report and the vishakha judgement. It is also appalling that consumption of beef in india is a punishable offense but marital rape isnt. Once women are ensured of a certain level of social and economic security in their lives, empowerment will not remain far behind. It is simply not viable to assume that religious laws formed 1500 years ago are plausible in the 21st century especially considering that the constitution written in 1950 has had 99 ammendments in 65 years. However this should not be mistaken for a movement away from India’s religious identity since this is the very fabric that has kept that the family system in the nation alive. It is not renunciation that is being proposed, but evolution.
The debate for a uniform civil code was brought back into limelight when the supreme court declared the concept of ‘fatwas’ not legally binding. (state the concept of ‘fatwas’)There has been a constant struggle as to where the waters of personal law end and the constitutions begin. Often different religious sects develop a shell when their identities are attempted to be concilled under a common banner. (It’s not a good way to say that even though I know what you mean. Rephrase these 2 sentences.) It highlights the classic difference between a nation and the feeling of nationality. A uniform civil code however could bridge these gaps. All that needs to be done is to empower the minorities to make suggestive corrections to the bill, and not just religious but tribal and ethnic minorities as well. Former chief justice of india, Y.V. Chandrachud, talks about how “a common civil code” would help “the cause of national integration by removing desperate loyalties to law which have conflicting ideologies.” Amidst all the cultural differences, if commonly applicable laws for the civic lives of people are brought forth then the people would have a bond that they could share. More importantly political leaders and religious headmen, whose power thrives on conflict and the formulation of these personal laws, will be nullified. This will also marginalise political parties with a purely religious identity like the AIMIM and make the law makers in india more proactive in enacting laws for a common good and not solely for the purpose of their vote banks.
The preamble of the indian constitution declares India as secular. To be more expansive, it means we have the ability to be accomodative about our various religious identity. Can we not muster the strenght to support a law that will help women in our country and end vote bank politics? The prime minister stated that a uniform civil code wouldn’t mean a Hindu majority state, and his word needn’t be taken for it. Article 25 and 26 of the Indian Constitution provides freedom of religious practice as a fundmental right and the bill enacting the code and all future governments hands will be tied to this doctrine. The lack of political will is the only stumbling block that exists at the moment. The current government in the centre has a mandate that gives it the opportunity to sanction this law without the whims of the coalition being an annoyance. All that need be done is an inclusive process for the law making. This is an opportunity equivalent to what the drafting committee of the indian constitution had, and have the political accumen to deliver. The example of Goa should be taken, which as a state has succesfully implemented this law and has the lowest accounts of communal tension in the nation. It is not a process that takes us away from our traditional roots. A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and souls of its people, not in the fancies and following of blind faith. History has shown that we persevere, it is time our future shows we dominate. The only path that leads to this vision goes through the doors of a united India. An abundance of religions standing united under one uniform civil code to uphold the strength of one nation. (Sounds better, more formal, though mildly less dramatic than “Many religions, one uniform civil code, one nation.)
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