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Uniform Civil Code Debate

Courts of India have been prodding successive governments to bring in 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. Triple Talaq issue is definitely not about religion, it was about gender justice.

Many people wonder, what could have stopped Pandit Nehru from pushing through Uniform Civil Code when he had massive support from within and outside the Party in 1950s? Why did he stop at Hindu Code Bill? Simple answer is lack of political courage. This was the reason why UCC became a part of 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 idea of an egalitarian democratic society. The Golden hour was lost.

Champions of Minority rights claim it is an RSS conspiracy. They are blind to the fact that None of the members of Constituent Assembly were RSS members. Courts that gave rulings against Shariah or asked for UCC were not controlled by RSS. Let us not colour this debate by bringing in RSS or Hindutva.

Contrary to public perception, RSS was not in favour of Uniform Civil Code or Hindu Code Bill being implemented by force. In an interview to K R Malkani in August 1972, Guruji, who moulded RSS thoughts 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, UCC is highly desirable goal for RSS, but the urge for reforms should ideally come from various communities.

From the authority of learned Muslim scholars I can say that Shariah is not divine God given law. Codification of Shariah based on Quran and Hadis (which was recorded over 20-30 decades after the Prophet’s death) began at the time of Khalifa nearly 30 years after  death of Prophet Mohammed and was  work in progress for nearly 100 years. 90% of these laws have not come from Quran and they reflect traditions of Arabic societies of those times. It is not a uniform across all sects of Muslims. It has been modified as per local culture in different countries. Most of the Islamic countries have outlawed many clauses in 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 bogey of religious freedom to force its patriarchal attitude built on 1400 year old Arabian tribal culture through unrepresentative bodies like AIMPLB tells us that legislative path is the best way to bring in UCC.

In a TV debate on NDTV in October 2015, in which I too was 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 Christian would have no problem with Uniform Civil Code. He rightly asked, where is this Code? It has not been defined anywhere.

There is no case for 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 UCC means easy divorce and equal right for women to divorce, it is welcome. If UCC means easy adoption of children for families of any religion, it would be great service to social wellbeing.

Simply put, need for Uniform Civil Code flows from the very definition of Secularism. Secularism by Western definition is based on separation of Church (Religion) and State (Government). If we go by the secular Indian ethos; respect for individual faiths is inherent in Indian psyche. But, it shouldn’t mean abandoning ‘Dharma’ in its pristine definition. Dharma that holds society together through 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 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 of people seeking justice very painful. There is urgent need to demystify civil laws for common people to seek easy and fast justice, just as there is need to simplify outdated criminal laws. What is the use of laws if they meet out justice to a poor Shah Bano in three decades or release an innocent person after 10-20 years in jail as undertial? 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 that breaks the will power 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.

– Ratan Sharda


Author, Ratan Sharda(Ratan Sharda is a free lance columnist, author and editor. He also translates books in Hindi and English. He has written ‘Secrets of RSS’ which is in second edition and biography of Prof. Rajendra Singh in Hindi. His latest book is The Sangh & Swaraj – Role of RSS in Independence Struggle, last most talked about book is – RSS 360 degree.

He has done his PhD on RSS – Understanding RSS through its Resolutions – focus on North East, Jammu Kashmir and Punjab, translated two key books of Guruji – his biography and Guruji – Vision & Mission written by senior RSS thinker – Shri Ranga Hari.

He has also mentored many new writers and is currently editing 12 books. He is also a well-known personality of TV debates)


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