Empowering Women?

UCC–a Political Tool?


Shiv Sena says "'Muslim Law Board should support the UCC as it will help the community, especially the women to come out of misery".

Uniform Civil Code (UCC) or personal law was always a "controversial" one in Indian polity. Modern India have adopted a common law system as a replacement to manu's code, even though most of it remain in paper and in reality many times equality is denied in legal and public sphere. Except in matters of marriage, property inheritance and adoption people were able to invade the laws of manu which was reigning the Indian land mass and replace it with uniform and egalitarian laws which constitute 95% of total laws in India. The article 44 of directive principles of Indian constitution reads, "The State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India", but over the history there was no glimpse of endeavouring by the state to have a bottom up approach for reformation of personal law and it was reduced to a political tool, a synonym to alienate muslims in India, its greater example being the absence of draft bill of the same.

One can observe that Ambedkar's apprehension that in a country where communal sentiments are used for political gains, implementation of UCC will be disastrous have come true. The debate of UCC was surfaced in 1985 when a Muslim woman Shah Bano was denied maintenance from her divorced husband, which was challenged in the court by the former  and was able to claim maintenance as per section 125 of CPC, this aroused strong protest from self styled muslim leaders, to which Rajiv Gandhi government passed an ordinance overruling the judgement. This helped the growing organized hindutva politics in propelling the argument of 'minority appeasement', which have eventually led to demolition of Babri Masjid and riots in Bombay.

All discussion on UCC is circumvented around the reform of 'barbaric Islamic customs' and people have conveniently forgot about the inherent gender justice part which should be prioritised. They think that hindu personal laws are egalitarian and should be adopted by other communities which is necessary for national integrity. In their action plan of building a hindu rashtra, sangh parivar places muslims as invaders and spreads the lie that polygamous relationship among muslims will lead India to an Islamic state, but surveys reveal that polygamous relationships are more popular among Hindus. While one crore hindu men have more than one wife, twelve lakh muslim men are in a bigamous relationship. In reality, the law of monogamy in Hindus ends up in denying maintenance for hindu women as more than one legal marriage is not allowed and court observes them as 'mistresses' and 'keeps'. The demand for UCC arises solely from the hindutavadhi camp, while surveys among muslim women reveal that they want ban on triple talaq and polygamy in muslim personal law and which cannot be read as favour for UCC. There are direct correlations of polygamy relationship and birth rate to socio-economic status of women, a poor performance on this indicator could be seen as a reason for increased polygamy and birth rate among tribals in India.

While the muslim fundamentalists take shelter under 'culture' against any reformation in personal law, by coining it as an illegitimate interference by the state in religious practice, a stand similar to B G Tilak on the Age of Consent Bill 1891, which proposed that the marriageable age for girls should be raised from ten to twelve. The argument that unilateral divorce is an immutable law which they have been following from ancient times does not stand as muslim majority countries like Bangladesh have managed to reform Islamic laws in order to benefit women. So rather than creating binaries of national integrity vs cultural right of community, what people need is gender just laws.

The stark reality of double standard of those who push UCC as a move towards women empowerment could be seen in their silence on 33% women reservation in parliament and their terming marital rape as a personal affair where marriages are considered as a lifelong consent for sexual abuse. India is a compartmentalized society which lives on caste and gender, and the roots of gender discrimination and violence are from caste and by annihilating caste only one could have a truly empowered women society. To allow people to pursue their freedom it is required that one who says no to his/her community or a couple who say no to the caste rules can exist here with the other communities.

India has currently six sets of personal laws which discriminate women in some form or other. Any action of imposing uniformity will be of a dominant voice and the marginalization and exclusion of a multiplicity of other interests and identities, as people have seen in case of hindu personal law which rather than reforming, codified the heterogeneous practices into a North Indian upper caste practice, this destroyed the matrilineal system that was existing in communities of Kerala, which positioned women in a better way and women of that community was brought into the clutches of patriarchy. In the present context where 'hindu' is equaled to 'Indian', any push for UCC will be the extension of hindu laws to other communities as they think 'we Hindus' have already given 'our' women equal rights.

To bring an egalitarian and gender just laws, civil libtertarians must organize and raise their voice against the brahminical establishment and its political outfits BJP/RSS government, or else India would be ending up in laws strengthening brahmanical Hindu state.

Vol. 49, No.42, April 23 - 29, 2017