oppn parties Congress' Fault Uniform Civil Code Not Law Till Now

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Congress' Fault Uniform Civil Code Not Law Till Now

By Sunil Garodia

About the Author

Sunil Garodia Editor-in-Chief of indiacommentary.com. Current Affairs analyst and political commentator. Writes for a number of publications.
The Congress party has shown little understanding of the Indian constitution and the debates that took place in the Constituent Assembly that shaped the constitution by accusing the NDA government of “raking up” the Uniform Civil Code issue to polarize the country. The party needs to be reminded that Uniform Civil Code was raked up (to use their own words) before the constitution was adopted. The assembly debated the issue in a clinical manner. In the end, it was not enforced then as the nation was emerging from the pangs of a bloody Caesarian section that split it into pieces, where several pieces were left to disputes that are still not solved.

The fathers of the Indian constitution, in their sagacity and overconfidence towards future governments, enshrined the issue as Directive Principle of State Policy that was to be looked into and implemented at an appropriate future date. For more than 60 years, the Congress ruled the country – either alone or in partnership with others – but it never felt the need to even give a thought to what the makers of our constitution felt might be proper to implement. The Congress never thought the country needed a Uniform Civil Code despite prodding from the Supreme Court that spelled out its need in several landmark judgments.

A Uniform Civil Code will not polarize the country. On the contrary, it will bind it together. Just because some Muslim organizations bent on carrying on with their patriarchal ways are opposing it does not mean the nation will not go ahead with it. Codification of personal laws of all religions is of utmost importance if there is to be a single judicial system in the country. The existence of a parallel justice system based on fatwas is neither justified nor does it impart fair justice to the parties. This is because of a simple reason. There are many interpretations of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah and justice in such cases often depends of the whim of a single person or a group of persons, with no system of appeal. The system is opaque and it is never a certainty that all procedures prescribed in the holy texts are adhered to.

The Muslim law is harsh as well as very compassionate. For instance, while it is prescribed that a thief’s will have his hands chopped, it is also prescribed that he be let-off with a warning if he repents. A woman accused of adultery must be stoned to death, but there must be four witnesses who can testify that they saw her in the act. Is it possible to get even two such witnesses? While a man is allowed to marry four times, he is enjoined not to marry even once if he cannot treat all wives equally. How many Muslim men marrying more than once can vouch that they are true to this? The divorce laws are even more complicated and triple talaq is called talaq e bidaat or talaq of the wrong innovation. Two pronouncements and then a waiting period when reconciliation can be attempted is what the Muslim laws prescribe. But a patriarchal clergy grants instantaneous divorce without caring for women’s rights.

A Uniform Civil Code will not impose anything. It will just take the best out of all personal laws and incorporate it into a single law. It will bring all matters under the jurisdiction of the courts. This is what is troubling the Muslim clergy. They have a huge all-India infrastructure that is dependent on Muslims coming to them for the nikahnama and the talaqnama. If the same were to be given by the courts, where will that leave them? Their hold over the faithful will gradually diminish. As it is, affluent and educated Muslims do not, and never did, send their children to madrasas. If matters of personal laws were also to be decided by the courts, the clergy will be out of business. Hence, they will keep raising the bogey of interference in personal laws to prevent either the codification of Muslim laws or the implementation of Uniform Civil Code.

But what is sad is that parties like the Congress speak in the same voice. The Congress will do well to carry out a survey among enlightened Muslims. Or see the petitions being filed in courts by women divorced by triple talaq. It will discover that a majority of Muslims will favour codification of their personal laws to escape the suffocating stranglehold of the patriarchal clergy. Indian Muslims continue to suffer from outdated interpretations of their personal laws when most Muslim majority countries like Indonesia, Egypt, Bangladesh and even Pakistan have moved ahead with the times in codifying important provisions of the same. A Uniform Civil Code will not make them unfaithful to their religion, it will just afford them an opportunity to enjoy rights that other Muslims enjoy in countries where Islam is the religion of the state. They should come forward and prod organizations claiming to represent their interests to join the debate on the code and ensure that Muslim laws are given representation. This will help the state address their grievances better.