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Uniform Civil Code: Another attempt at polarization on pretext of reform

As part of its slogan ‘one nation, one law’ the BJP has been talking up Uniform Civil Code. But why is the BJP-led government not taking any steps to legislate the code? Why did the party use the services of one of its MPs to table a Private Member’s Bill seeking enactment of the code? asks Arun Anand

Anything that increases Hindu-Muslim polarization has always found its way into the core agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It often props up these divisive issues when elections are at hand. The resultant polarization ensures that a substantial section of the Hindus vote for the party, thus perpetuating its continuance in power. 

The BJP has succeeded in endearing itself to a large section of the Hindus by projecting the Muslims as invaders and as a menace for Hinduism. Behind its success are the Hindi media, intellectuals and hundreds of organizations ranging from Saraswati Vidya Mandirs to Swadeshi Jagran Manch which spew poison day in, day out. They never talk about employment, education, hospitals, irrigation and adequate opportunities for development. “Hinduism is in danger” is their constant refrain, pitting the Hindus against the Muslims. 

Using this narrative, the BJP has turned Hindus into a captive vote-bank. By generating fear in the name of religion, it has managed to capture power at the all-India level. However, the ways to break free from the emotional traps that the party has laid have appeared while the party is in power. What is needed is perspective and a scientific and objective analysis.

The talk of Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is yet another trickery aimed at polarizing society that has emanated from the BJP stable. Ostensibly, the government is not directly involved in the issue. The party’s Rajya Sabha member Kirori Lal Meena tabled a Private Member’s Bill in the Winter Session of Parliament seeking the enactment of UCC. The fact that 63 members of the Rajya Sabha voted in favour of the Bill and 23 against it proves that Meena enjoyed the support of his party. The Congress, Samajwadi Party (SP), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) opposed the Bill. The Biju Janata Dal staged a walkout in protest. Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) leader Vaiko vigorously protested. As part of a strategy, the Bill was moved when comparatively few opposition members were present in the House. A Facebook user rightly wrote that “Uniform Civil Code is akin to vultures feeding on the corpse of democracy”. 

Rajya Sabha member Kirori Lal Meena

The BJP has been making UCC an election issue in states where it is in power with the objective of turning it into a major election issue in time for the 2024 General Elections. In Uttarakhand, the BJP government has constituted a committee to explore the possibilities of implementing UCC. Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel has backed the idea. Implementation of UCC was included in the manifesto of the BJP for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly Elections. The Uttarakhand government has formed a committee of specialists to scrutinize personal laws of various communities and to prepare the draft of a common code. 

We have seen how in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh (until recently), Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the issue of UCC was incorporated into the election campaign of the ruling party. Even earlier, whether it was the Ram Temple Movement or the decision to strip Jammu and Kashmir of its special status, the BJP has been targeting the Muslims. Even in the discourse on UCC, Muslim Personal Law is being branded as a villain of the piece. The Muslim Personal Law sanctions triple talaq. The BJP government first criminalized it and then used the decision to further its interests. Now, it is trying to woo the Pasmandas. 

As part of its slogan “one nation, one law” the BJP has been talking up UCC. But why is the BJP-led government not taking any steps to legislate the code? Why did the party use the services of one of its MPs to table a Private Member’s Bill seeking enactment of the code?

Will UCC end discrimination rooted in caste, religion and clothing? Will it ensure protection of human rights? Will it be easy to impose a common code on people of all faiths? UCC, by definition, means a common law for all people. Will the people accept a uniform law which pays no heed to their different religions, gender and sexual orientation? 

India is known for its linguistic, cultural and religious plurality. Different religious communities have different sets of personal laws based on their religions, ethos and values. It will be very difficult to formulate a unified set of laws for a vast and diverse country like India. Even the Muslim Personal Law is not common for all Muslims. The laws relating to inheritance in the Muslim Bohra community have much in common with the corresponding norms for the Hindus. There are different laws on inheritance and on ownership of property in different states. The northeastern states with a large proportion of Christians have diverse laws. Nagaland and Mizoram have their own personal laws, which are in keeping with the local customs and are not religion-based. Similarly, there are different norms on adoption among different communities. In the Hindu tradition, adoption is allowed and the adoptee becomes the heir of the adopter? But does Islam allow adoption? There is a juvenile justice law in India, which allows citizens of all religions to adopt a child. If a common code is drafted, which community’s adoption norms will it be based on – Hindu, Muslim or Christian?   

It is obvious that many fundamental issues will have to be resolved before we can even think of a UCC. What will be the norms for marriage and divorce? What will be the process for adoption? How will maintenance or division of property be decided in case of divorce? Which rules will govern inheritance? There are no easy answers to these questions. 

The biggest challenge before the BJP is making the UCC compatible with anti-conversion laws. UCC will allow marriages between members of all religions and communities while the anti-conversion laws seek to curb inter-caste and inter-faith marriage. 

A good law should be clear and Constitutional. Given the complexities that are emerging from the discourse on the UCC, there is little possibility that such a law will be given a logical form.  

 (Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)

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About The Author

Arun Anand

Arun Anand is a Patna-based freelance journalist.

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