Thursday, 13 October 2016

One Nation, One Law!

Sometimes when people cite 'Unity in diversity' as the strength of our great Republic, I often find myself combing through Indian society and polity in pursuit of instances of unity. Glaring diversities in ground zero and the constitution are well-known and constantly heralded, but where indeed does the 'unity' part lie? How can a country boast of national unity and commonalities when it's citizens adhere to divergent personal laws? One can understand that at the time of fragile communal armistice that ensued the partition, our leaders might have been arm-twisted in instilling the ideal of a Uniform civil code as non-enforceable Directive principle. But 70 years on, surely the communal fabric is much more intact; surely the minorities are well entrenched and integrated into the mainstream. So isn't now the time to finally create a single unified country? The benefits of a uniform civil code are many. Not only does it make it easier for the judiciary to carry out it's trials, it can also abolish many antediluvian practices like polygamy and triple talaq, which continue to perpetuate under the garb of secularism. Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his many shortcomings was a progressive thinker, a true rationalist. He had envisaged the creation of a uniform civil code for India during his tenure as PM. But the opposition to this proposal came from the likes of Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad. This was at a time of Hindu-invincibility and hence the right-wing leaders did not want to give up their primacy. But now the tables have changed. The minority appeasement politics of India has crossed all bounds. The pseudo-secular parties have been so engaged in capturing the 20% minority vote in India, that they have polarized the 80% majority into a political bloc. Hence, in recent years it has been the conservative elements of the minority communities that have opposed the reforms tooth and nail. The regular cant of Hindu dominance and enslavement of minorities have been fruitful in shelving the initiative whenever the issue has surfaced. But this time, there is a big difference. There seems to be a political will among the national leadership, and a consensus among the progressive religious elements towards the realization of this goal. More importantly, the people of India seem to want it earnestly!

The general argument of the religious orthodoxy is that religion is a matter of personal affairs over which the government has no authority. I couldn't agree more with this view. However,anyone who has ever been part of a religion would realize that they are far from perfect. Misogyny, patriarchy, worship taboos, etc are only a few of the major drawbacks of almost all religions. And allowing these practices to perpetuate is a crime on humanity and utterly sinful towards half of our population. The Muslim Personal Law is probably the most conservative, backward and illogical personal law in the world. From polygamy to under-age marriages, the Muslim personal laws are basically a slap on the face of human rights and gender equality. According to Muslim Personal Law a girl can be married off immediately after she attains puberty or after completing age of 15! Despite the presence of this kind of a law, Muslim clerics have the audacity to claim that the Uniform civil code is draconian. Muslim Personal Law also allows for the despicable act of polygamy, however it has 'graciously' limited the number of wives to 4. While a polygamous Hindu marriage is 'null and void' and also punishable, the Muslim women have to be content with open and legally valid infidelity of their husband. And in true misogynistic spirit, the same luxury in terms of polyandry is not extended to Muslim women. Muslim Personal Law also legitimizes one of the most condemnable practices in the world- triple talaq. What is interesting to see is that triple talaq is nowadays carried out through WhatsApp and e-mails; implying that 'conservatism has been modernized, and digitized instead of being uprooted.' These kinds of inequalities and injustices have been peddled by the clerics and 'maulaanaas' as being the prerogative of their religion and culture. But the idea that the religion which was founded on the principle of human equality and fraternity would end up discriminating and torturing one half of their population was probably inconceivable. The Muslim Personal Law board is one of the most stubborn and anachronistic-minded bodies in the country and their constant refusal to participate in the country's societal reforms is hurting the very people whom they claim to represent. The Islamic political parties like AIMIM are also speaking the argot of a communal victim striving to keep the secular fabric intact. These parties and their leaders need to understand one thing. Practices like polygamy and triple talaaq have been abolished in fanatic Islamic states like Pakistan and Iran. When you retain religious laws that have been abolished by the likes of Pakistan, it should be enough of a wake-up call!

But no religious community is devoid of faulty laws and codified nonsense! The Hindu women, even today face inequality in marriages and in principles of inheritance. Parents may grant a bigger chunk of their property to their sons over their daughters, thus forcing them to bequeath their right to property to men. There is no logical basis for this practice and is once again a clear expression of religious misogyny. Certain hill tribes in the fringes of the country continue to practice polygamy among both men and women. These tribes are in fact non-Hindus, but are included in the Hindu fold. Most of the draconian aspects of Hindu law were removed in the late 19th century by progressive thinkers like Raja Rammohan Roy and Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar. Even then, there was staunch opposition from the Hindu orthodoxy, but the rational mindset of the common people and the political will in the country eclipsed their stubbornness. If the Hindus had refused malleability in their laws, we would still have 10 year old girls jumping into funeral pyres of their dead husbands! But now, we are amused and flabbergasted that we were once gullible enough to support these rules. 

The Christian Personal Law is also guilty of unequal treatment and injustice. There is actually a 2-year period of wait for finalizing divorces among Christians. This entails 2 years of emotional suffering and legal attachment to a person with whom a woman does not wish to live, or the other way round. The law also allows for divorces on grounds of religious conversion by one spouse. But one thing that Christian law boards have been most guilty of, is the spreading of insecurity among it's followers regarding the uniform civil code. Countries like USA, Britain and France which are predominantly Christian and have a uniform civil code do not face allegations of trampling minorities. In fact, these countries are paraded as the hallmark of democracy and secularism. 

Many minority community law boards have been spreading the gospel of Uniform civil code being the death knell of secularism in India. This kind of fear mongering has led to the minorities being psychologically programmed to resist religious reforms. Uniform civil code is the answer to many problems of social inequality and national integration that we face today. Why are Muslim women denied a proper process of divorce and maintenance which are available to Hindu and Christian women? Why are Muslim girls married off at tender ages, while all other girls in the country reach marriageable age at 18? Why do Christian women wait for 2 years for formal divorce, while others receive swift closure? Why are Hindu women denied an equal share in their parental assets unlike their counterparts across the world? The answer to these questions lie in the blind supremacy of religion over rationality in our land. Unfortunately our constitution has endorsed this paradox due to historical reasons. The western definition of secularism as 'the separation of church from government' is much more practical than the Indian one, where the government is almost party to religious beliefs. The 1985 Shah Bano case was probably the greatest opportunity for India to implement a Uniform Civil code, but unfortunately, Rajeev Gandhi yielded to pressure from his Muslim vote-bank and goofed up a golden chance. Indian people, and minorities in particular are so used to being treated as special citizens, that they cannot fathom the idea of  a rational unified civil code that is different from their own.

The whole idea that the 'sharia' or the other personal law systems are sacrosanct and hence unbreakable is a myth. The 'sharia' prohibits drinking, gambling, and even payment of interest. But these are rarely followed by Muslim men and women from across the world, and these are the 'good' provisions of the Islamic law. The Muslim personal law board does not pressurize the Indian Muslims to abstain from alcohol or drugs, however instigates it's followers to reject a common law that will rid their society of evils like polygamy. The hypocrisy in their opinions and selective outrage is despicable. These religious personal law boards are tying the hands of the judiciary and running a 6th century society with religious paramountcy over national interests. The Law commission has just now released a questionnaire asking people about the need for a uniform civil code. The proposal is to take along all religious communities and create a code that is reflective of our cultural idiosyncrasies and devoid of dogmatic prejudices. The very fact that Goa, an integral state in the Union of India already has a vibrant and dynamic Common civil code is testimony to it's suitability for India. Goa is a state that has a highly heterogeneous population with a history of exogenous cultural impact. Despite this, the Goa experiment has been highly successful and is something we should be proud of. The important thing to realize here, is that we are creating a 'uniform' code. We are removing not only Muslim and Christian personal law, but also Hindu and Sikh personal law. The so-called guardians of Islamic jurisprudence and minority appeasers should stop their fear mongering and appreciate the fact that we are all 'Indians' first, and religious minions second.

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