Indicating the need for wider consultation before taking a call on a uniform civil code, the government on Friday, asked the Law Commission to examine the issue.
In July 2015, Nistha Gautam had written for The Quint about how the code will simplify justice delivery.
Rise Above Petty Politics
- Uniform Civil Code has the ability to simplify the justice delivery mechanism
- Judiciary’s reiteration speaks about its commitment for the UCC, political class has chosen to dither so far
- Debate on UCC reduced to political slugfest though it has potential of bringing gender equality
- In midst of contentious issues such as Ram Mandir & Article 370, UCC is reduced to a political tool
On September 27, 1951, BR Ambedkar resigned from government as an act of protest against what he perceived as Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s inertia on the Hindu Code Bill. The bill aimed at social reform which Ambedkar saw as the greatest responsibility of the lawmakers of an independent India. An astute advocate of uniformity in civil law, he had been provoking extreme reactions from not only the religion based bodies like the Hindu Mahasabha, RSS and Muslim members but also the Congress stalwarts. The Hindu personal Law was the first to get codified in an attempt to achieve uniform civil code for the citizens of a new born democracy.
Six decades hence, the endeavours “to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India” are still afoot meeting similar kind of socio-political resistance. The debate has merely shifted in spatio-temporal and technological terms from the Constituent Assembly to the Parliament as well as social media.
In a charming turn of history, Bhartiya Janta Party- progeny of the same Jan Sangh that fulminated against the Hindu Code bills- has espoused the cause of Uniform Civil Code while Congress decries it now. It is the judiciary that has remained unequivocal in its commitment towards this goal and the recent Supreme Court ruling in favour of an unwed Christian mother demonstrates it.
UCC A Binding Force
Over the past few years, INC has repeatedly accused the BJP of using Uniform Civil Code as a tool to bolster its rally towards Hindutva majoritarianism. With the resounding success of BJP in 2014 polls, this view seems to be gaining currency among sceptics and fence-sitters. At the same time, BJP supporters have begun to flash UCC as the righteous means of ‘sorting out’ the privileged minorities. The debate has sadly been reduced to being a spectacle of jubilant chest-thumping and mournful chest-beating in the political arena while the integrating and empowering aspects of UCC languish in the background.
As conceptualised by Ambedkar, the UCC, in principle, aims at stratifying a set of gender-neutral laws wherein no individual is denied of his/her fundamental rights in the name of religious diktats. In a culturally diverse country like India, caste and religious councils wield enormous powers over the lives of individuals and often their decrees override the constitutional mandates. The UCC also seeks to simplify the process of delivering justice by establishing common reference points for all the citizens.
Reinforcing Equal Status of Women
Resistance to UCC, from Hindus earlier and now mostly Muslims, is entrenched in the idea of treating family as a sacrosanct institution, precluding any scope for reforms in its internal transactions. In most communities, unfortunately, it is the women of the family who are often short-changed when it comes to basic rights.
As many legal experts, women’s rights groups and social commentators have noticed, UCC is one of the ways of reinforcing equal status of women that our constitution grants them. However, any law is only as good as its implementation. For instance, Goa has a common family law and yet its gender balanced nature remains a matter of theory and not praxis.
Is the Government Serious?
Can reforms in the existing personal laws for different communities, coupled with the existing provisions in the Special Marriages Act, 1954 and Indian Succession Act, 1925, become the reconciliatory ground? Perhaps yes, albeit such a scenario does nothing to help an overburdened judiciary of this country.
If the government is serious about the empowering aspects of the UCC, it is imperative that the minority scepticism is assuaged. Clubbed together with contentious issues like Ram Mandir and abrogation of Article 370, and in the absence of a draft, the UCC merely becomes another road-roller fantasy for the Hindus and nightmare for the minorities, especially Muslims.
Yet, in all likelihood, the minorities will embrace a just UCC. Is the government willing to offer them that? Prime Minister Narendra Modi had categorically remarked before assuming office that the UCC is not a Hindu code. Let a sensitively conceptualised draft reflect the same.
(The writer is Associate Fellow ,Gender Studies, at the Observer Research Foundation)