October 18, 2016

India: Uniform Civil Code: Avoid politicisation (Captain GR Gopinath)

The Times of India

Uniform Civil Code: Avoid politicisation
October 17, 2016, 11:46 pm IST Captain GR Gopinath in Captain's Musings | India | TOI

Supreme Court must hasten to implement it. Our women need it the most

Many political leaders and ‘intellectuals’ in the opposition who wear their ‘secular heart’ on their sleeve in their inimitable provocative style asked, ” Why do the Hindus want an uniform civil code? Is it to impose their will?” They should have posed the question differently and also answered: ” Why can’t all Indian citizens come under one common civil code?” Many are well known lawyers and articulate spokes persons and well versed in the logic of dialectics and one can rarely win an argument with them. One can only guess whether they are truly fanatical secularists with a twisted logic, a kind of ‘ liberal conservative’ or their utterances are purely political in nature, to appease the muslims, without a personal belief, but dictated by the adversarial relationships of their party with the the BJP. And so you can’t hold it against them if their outbursts are mere politics of the moment.


Similarly, the tone and tenor of the harangues of those holding positions of power in the government and the official spokespersons of the ruling party in favour of a common civil code are needlessly strident and aggressive, and avoidable, indirectly pointing a finger at the minority community, who will find an excuse to clam up, obstruct the introduction of a just common code that applies to all citizens irrespective of their caste , creed or gender. The conservatives and fanatics on both sides of the political and religious divide can be expected to fight for and perpetuate their obscurantist customs and decadent and regressive laws, and will tear apart society to appease their constituents and vote banks, with an eye on the imminent elections in UP.

In a society which is aiming to be decent, egalitarian and enlightened, the laws have to be amended progressively. 150 years ago we had the practice of Sati and child marriage. It was fortunately abolished by great reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Though Sati is now no longer practiced there are still cases dowry burning and instances of child marriage. Bonded labour was only abolished recently when India became a Republic.

Many of these practices though have no legal sanction, are still prevalent and not uncommon in many parts of the country. The Hindus, themselves an amorphous people, do not have uniform customs and practices. There are a myriad castes and sub castes with their own beliefs and systems both for marriage and re-marriage, which is different for men and women and also property rights not equally applied. In many parts of the country among the Hindus even today, the widow, even while very young can not re-marry, while the man if widowed can, and in many communities usually he marries the unmarried sister of his wife. Whether it is the dreaded ‘khaps’ or honour killings and many other ancient practices in many castes either for property rights, or marriages or divorce and alimony, it is the women who bear the brunt and suffer the most. And it is the same among Muslims and their sub-sects or other minority faiths in the country. In the name of religion and the power it bestows on them, they practice a tyranny that mutilates women physically and metaphorically and oppress women who suffer the ignominy, shame, privations, and denial of social, economic and political equality and dignity.

Muslim Woman

When the Supreme Court passed the judgement making ‘fatwas’ illegal two years ago, the learned maulanas tried to defend their rights to practice their religion including the fatwas under the bogey of constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. The Supreme Court decree pertained to the case of a father in law who raped his daughter in law and the punishment meted out by the fatwa was for the father-in-law to live with the daughter-in-law, the rape victim. One of the bizarre arguments offered was that it was to punish the father in law to live and maintain that girl whom he had raped in his lust and would serve as a deterrent to the rest of the Muslims – completely forgetting the cruelty and barbaric nature of the punishment and not even considering this could actually encourage more rapes considering the nature of the punishment. And what about the woman who is the unfortunate victim? Has any one asked her opinion?

We also have elected leaders from the BJP, and other regional parties who have at various times supported Khaps and opposed stringent laws against rapes, and made comments , “Boys will be boys. ”

My daughter married a French boy. They had two marriages. One a Hindu style wedding and the other blessed by a priest in the Christian tradition. They live in France and they can practice their own religion in their private life but they come under the common civil code applicable to all citizens and immigrants in France. So do the other couple of millions from Algeria, Senegal, Mauritiana, French Guinea, who are all Muslims and similarly many thousands from Vietnam who may be Buddhists and others like the gypsies from Romania and other East European countries, including the native white Christians who come under a common civil code. The other democracies and welfare states of Europe like the Nordic countries have common laws for all citizens. The US which is today a nation of immigrants who out number the original Pilgrim Fathers who were also immigrants but seen as true Americans or Boston Brahmins, is a real melting pot of modern civilisation and has the most ethnic diversity than any other nation. The US has one common civil code and penal code. And the justice system and civil codes have evolved over more than two hundred years since its independence. Who can believe women had no franchise in America a few decades ago or slavery existed and even the first president of America, George Washington had African slaves.

It should be no one’s case to foist the civil code applicable to Hindus on Muslims or other minorities. The ‘khap panchayat’ are probably more inhuman and unjust to women and society’s progress, not just the fatwas or the Shariat courts. Every citizen must come under a common civil and penal code so that all are equal under the law. If a nation can not protect its women and give them total freedom and equal opportunities to lead a creative and liberal life without fear of their men we are barbaric. And the new government will do well to take the initiative and distance itself from its own party hawks and associated hardline outfits to depoliticise the issue and under the guidance of the Supreme Court take the best from the democratic world and our own various laws and pass a well crafted and thought out Uniform Civil Code in the parliament so that it becomes law in every state in India without any exception.

India will then be not only a truly developed country in the widest sense of the word, but a modern and civilised society where the creative energies of its men and women can flourish in equal triumph.