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Uniform Civil Code - Bye for debate

Uniform Civil Code - Bye for debate

It has been decades that not only the Hindutwa activists but secular intellectuals as well have been raising a hue and cry over not being able to implement the Uniform Civil Code envisaged in Article 44 of the Directive principles of the Indian Constitution even after 70 years.

They have been citing this as a major threat to the country’s national integration and as a reason for the unresolved miseries and persecution of women. What more, even the Supreme Court during the verdict delivered in the Shah Bano case in April 1985 pointed out the need to implement the Uniform Civil Code as a solution to the violations of rights faced by Muslim women. The emphasis in the extensive campaign carried out by the Left Front led by EMS Namboodiripad in Kerala against the Muslim Personal Law during 1985-86 was also on the need for a comprehensive implementation of the Uniform Civil Code applicable to all religions. Although the different sections in the Hindu community, Christians and Parsis follow different sets of personal laws with respect to matters such as marriage, divorce and right to property, the finger of attacks was always pointed at the Muslim Personal law introduced by the British government through the Shariat Act in 1937. Almost all Muslim organisations formed the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in the 1960s for the protection of Muslim Personal Laws against the Uniform Civil Code and voiced their opposition to the moves of the central and state governments. But the threats and propaganda of those clamouring for Uniform Civil Code continued.

The Personal Law Board primarily has pointed out that it was impossible to implement the Uniform Civil Code without hurting the religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution. Most recently, one of the main agenda stressed by the BJP in its election manifesto during the 16th Lok Sabha election was that they would implement a Uniform Civil Code in the country if the Hindutwa government came to power. Subsequently, when the far right Hindutwa government led by Narendra Modi stormed to power with a spectacular majority, they began the moves to bring a Uniform Civil Code ignoring all the opposition. Dragging the practice of triple talaq to the court was part of that move. Law Commission was appointed with Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan as its Chairman in June 2016 and the Commission prepared a questionnaire of 16 questions and published them for institutions, organisations and individuals interested. The verdict of the Supreme Court's Constitutional bench in the triple talaq case came while this process was on. It was noteworthy that the apex court which ruled triple talaq as unconstitutional, however also pointed out that the Muslim Personal Law lies within the boundaries of religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution.

And now, underlining the court verdict, Law Commission Chairman Balbir Singh Chauhan has unequivocally stated that uniform civil code is not feasible, adding that it is not an option at all. The Commssion pointed out that personal law forms part of religious freedom guaranteed in Article 25 of the Constitution, and it can never be bypassed. If legislation is made for such a civil code, it will amount to a violation of the Constitution. The Commission had received over fifty thousand responses to its questionnaire, but most of them concerned muttalaq. Justice Chauhan has said that now when that matter has been resolved by the Supreme Court, there is nothing for the Commission to do on that score. The deadline for the Commission to submit its recommendations is 30 August 2018. According to the Chairman, what the Commission is now trying to figure out is what all amendments can be made after considering the religious aspects in the personal laws of Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Parsi communities. When it takes such a step, no doubt the Commission will have to seek the views of the relative communities and legal experts.

If reforms are brought in through consensus, as done in the cases of the Dissolution of Muslim Marriage Act of 1939 and the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986, resistance is unlikely to arise. In any case, in a land of different religious communities and castes such as India, the best course would be to stop the clamour for the impractical and unconstitutonal uniform civil code, and to ask and try for necessary legal reforms in conformity with the constitution. At the same time, there should not be any hasty move to pass the bill cleared by the Central government to ban muttalaq in its current form. Instead, in the best interest of religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution, every effort has to be made to incorporate the consensus of the community concerned to make such legislation just and fair.

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