Tiptoeing stealthily

Uniform Civil Code

By Poonam I Kaushish

It’s the silly season of Ram-Rahim political poll cut outs with election to two States Gujarat and Himachal soon and Karnataka next year. Each community has upped the ante of identity politics to suit narrow political ends and massage their vote-banks.
Amidst this Gujarat Sarkar unleashed Uniform Civil Code (UCC) genie last week by setting up a committee to study its implementation and intends rolling it out pre-poll, the fourth State after Uttarakhand, Himachal and Assam. The Code is BJP’s key agenda and was part of its 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto alongside Ram temple in Ayodhya and abrogation of Article 370 in J&K which have been fulfilled.
In fact, Modi believes no country should have any religion-based law other than a single law for citizens. Just as he has umpteen times mooted the One Nation, One Poll idea to ensure the country is perennially not trapped in the year-long election circus which is wreaking havoc on our body politic leaving hardly any time for governance.
Alongside, after successfully implementing One Nation, One Ration Card, ‘One Nation, One Mobility Card, One Nation, One Grid and One Nation, One Sign Language, he has now mooted One Nation, One Uniform for police forces last week so that citizens anywhere can recognise police personnel as they would have a brand recall just like the red-and-black post boxes in the country.
Constitutionally, police forces are under the State Governments jurisdiction with each of 28 States having their own force. As both ‘public order’ and ‘police’ are placed in List II (State List) of the Seventh Schedule which deals with division of powers between the Union and States. Also there are inconsistencies in their official attire. Kolkata and Goa Police wear white, Puducherry Police bright red cap with khaki and Delhi Police white and blue.
Predictably, Opposition has attacked this “one nation” push as symptomatic of Modi’s stress on uniformity and his disregard for India’s diversity saying “good governance and not uniformity should be the objective of a democracy. The BJP and its cahoots always whip up one nation issues or UCC with an eye on upcoming polls to detract attention from its failures on taming high prices and burgeoning unemployment.”
Added a senior Congress leader, “By getting his home State to bring UCC, Modi is tiptoeing stealthily to present us with a fait accompli. He should realize UCC would interfere with the right of religious freedom and in personal laws of religious groups unless religious groups are prepared for change, (sic). It is a ‘minority versus majority’ issue and the Hindutva Brigade’s policy for Muslims living in India.”
Those hooting for UCC underscore it divests religion from social relations and personal law like Hindu Code Bill, Shariat law etc which are based on scriptures and customs of various religious communities. Replacing it with a common law governing personal matters: marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance and succession for citizens irrespective of religion, harmonising diverse cultural groups, removing inequalities and protecting women rights thereby creating a gender-equal society.
Moreover modern Indian society is gradually becoming homogenous, the traditional barriers of religion, community and caste are slowly dissipating, the UCC provides protection to vulnerable sections and religious minorities, while encouraging nationalistic fervour through unity.
But it is easier said than done due to the country’s diversity and religious laws, which not only differ sect-wise, but also by community, caste and region. Already, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has expressed reservations, stating India has a multi-cultural and multi-religious society and each group has the Constitutional right to maintain its identity. Adding, the UCC is a threat to India’s diversity and encroachment on their rights to religious freedom which will disregard their traditions, imposing rules influenced by the majority religious community.
Arguably, what is it about the UCC that makes the political tribe other than the Hindutva Brigade see red? Why should a Code be viewed as encroaching on the right of religious freedom? Or being anti-minority? If Hindu personal law can be modernized and a traditional Christian custom struck down as unconstitutional, why should Muslim personal law be treated as being sacred to the secular cause?
Bluntly, UCC spells out that there is no necessary connection between religious and personal law in a civilized society. Moreover with the dynamic ever-changing geo-security situation there is need for strengthening the country’s unity and integrity along-with rejection of different laws for different communities and reforming India.
Besides, it does not affect personal laws of a particular community. These laws will only help remove gender biases from personal laws bring gender equality and bind together all individual laws’ to have one set of common laws which will apply to all Indian nationals regardless of community and religion.
Goa is the only State which has a UCC regardless of religion, gender, caste. It has a common family law whereby all Hindus, Muslims and Christians are bound with the same law related to marriage, divorce, succession. When Goa became a Union Territory in 1961, Parliament authorized the Portuguese civil code of 1867 be amended and repealed by the competent legislature.
Certainly the path to UCC is sensitive and difficult but it must be taken. A beginning has to be made if the Constitution is to have any meaning. Discrimination cannot be justified on the grounds of traditions and customs. To establish equality the law that regulates population of a country should also be one.
A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing desperate loyalties to laws, which have conflicting ideologies. A way forward is to follow Balasaheb Ambedkar who advocated “optional” common civil code. Whereby, Parliament in the initial stage makes a provision of the Code being purely voluntary.
Regrettably, in today’s politico-social reality Ambedkar’s sound advice is ignored and dismissed as a utopian hypothesis and Article 44 has remained a dead letter. As things stand both Hindus and Muslims have lost sight of the essentials of their respective religions and are largely misled by bigots and fundamentalists. Worse, even the educated are speaking the language barely distinguishable from that of Hindu-Muslim fundamentalists. Their stock answer to every critique: Religion is in danger.
What next? Ultimately, no community should be allowed to veto or block progressive legislation. Especially, if it is voluntary and does not seek to impose any view or way of life on any one arbitrarily. Time now to reject different laws for different communities, implement Article 44 and reform India.
One cannot progress riding on past’s wheels. India needs uniform laws and should figure what is satisfactory to all groups. Criminal and commercial laws are basic, so there is little purpose behind common laws to appear as something else. It just partitions Indians on the premise of religion that should not happen in the 21st century. It is beyond endurance of sensitive minds to allow injustice to be suffered when it is so palpable. What gives? — INFA