As someone who personally experienced the impact of Sharia laws on my family, including the effects on my mother's marriage, divorce, and inheritance, I strongly support the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC).
This code would ensure that my fundamental rights, as well as those of others, are protected and respected.
The introduction of a UCC would contribute to a society that is more just and fair, fostering unity among citizens and transcending religious boundaries. It would establish equality before the law and promote harmony, addressing conflicts that arise between different communities.
Moreover, the UCC has the potential to address the prevailing gender inequalities embedded in personal laws, empowering women and promoting gender justice.
Importantly, the implementation of the UCC takes into account religious principles while ensuring that personal laws do not violate fundamental rights. By simplifying the legal system, it would enhance accessibility to justice and alleviate the burden on the judiciary. Currently, personal laws of various communities are governed by their religious scriptures.
The implementation of a uniform civil code across the nation is one of the contentious promises pursued by India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The UCC calls for the formulation of one law for India, which would be applicable to all religious communities in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption.
The code comes under Article 44 of the Constitution, which lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India.
There are differing opinions on the need for a UCC.
The Law Commission of India stated on 31 August, 2018, that a uniform civil code is "neither necessary nor desirable at this stage" in a 185-page consultation paper, adding that secularism cannot contradict plurality prevalent in the country.
However, in March 2022, the Uttarakhand government led by Pushkar Singh Dhami decided to work on the implementation of UCC in the state.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leadership has also stated that any uniform civil code should be “beneficial for all communities”.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has extended its "in-principle support" to the UCC but has said that the Government of India should bring it after building a consensus.
Supporters argue that the UCC would promote gender equality and social justice by eliminating discriminatory practices based on religion and gender. It would also promote national integration and secularism by reducing the influence of religious institutions on personal laws.
Also, it would simplify the legal system by replacing multiple personal laws with a single uniform code. Further, it would ensure that all citizens are governed by the same laws, regardless of their religion, caste, or gender. It would help to modernise Indian society by bringing personal laws in line with contemporary values.
However, opponents, which include some Muslims too, argue that the UCC is against the spirit of the Constitution, which safeguards the right of citizens to practice their culture and religion.
They argue that it would lead to social unrest and divisions in a country with diverse languages and traditions and that it would infringe on the rights of religious minorities and undermine the diversity of Indian culture.
They figure it would also be difficult to reconcile the diverse religious and cultural traditions of the country with a single uniform code.
Already the clamour of "Islam khatere mein hai", (Islam is in danger) has started with Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister and Patron of the National Conference in the now Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, threatening agitation on the streets if UCC is implemented.
Then we have Asaduddin Owaisi, the president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) and a self-proclaimed leader of Indian Muslims. He has expressed his belief that the government is encroaching upon the diverse nature of Indian culture and implied that the government is denying Muslim men control over their women.
This interpretation of his statement is echoed by several Muslim women who fought for the ban on instant triple talaq, a legislation that Owaisi's AIMIM opposed.
Amidst the current frenzy aimed at using the slogan "Islam is in danger" as a political weapon to suppress dissent, Arshad Madani, the Chief of Darul Uloom Deoband, has also joined in by stating that the BJP intends to deprive Muslims of their religious freedom.
Simultaneously, there is a spread of disinformation among the Muslim population about the nature of the UCC, mobilising them for protests similar to the Shaheen Bagh protests from last year.
This insistence on "it would be difficult to implement a uniform code that is acceptable to all communities and that it could lead to social unrest" is a mechanism to silence the supporters of the implementation of the UCC within the Muslim community.
The voice that rational Muslims need to listen to today is of the towering secularist from Maharashtra, founder of the Muslim Satyashodhak Mandal (MSM) and the Indian Secular Society (along with his friend and mentor A B Shah). Hamid Dalwai's views regarding the UCC are expressed in an interview, translated into English by Dilip Chitre, in Muslim Politics in India.
Dalwai describes the situation as, 'the relaxation of the prohibition on polygamy for Muslim employees in the Central Government is seen as an example of appeasing Muslim communalism, which poses a risk to the future of secular nationalism. It is ironic that Muslim obscurantists who oppose property rights for Muslim women demand equal rights for Hindu women in Parliament, while leftists and others who advocate modernisation support or justify Muslim separatism and obscurantism'.
He further elaborates that the problem of national integration cannot be solved by appeasement; instead, it requires fostering liberal and modern trends among Muslims.
The policy of appeasement followed by secular parties hinders this transformation and unless it is abandoned, there is little hope for improvement in Hindu-Muslim relations.
The situation may continue to deteriorate until lessons are learned from experience or a tribal approach is taken to address the Hindu-Muslim problem.
On Nehru's stance on Hindu-Muslim relations, Dalwai says it is aimed to counter Muslim separatism by strengthening secular nationalism. He (Nehru) understood the historical forces behind Muslim politics and advocated for a common electorate and a uniform civil code in the Constitution, despite opposition from Muslim communalists.
According to Hamid Dalwai, based on his observations during the 1970s, he believed that Nehru recognised the tendency of Muslims to unite politically due to their social structure and lack of a modern secular consciousness.
Dalwai supported Nehru's approach of positioning himself as a protector of Muslim interests in order to prevent the emergence of a strong Muslim party.
Dalwai suggests that Nehru's inclusion of the provision for a Uniform Civil Code in the Indian Constitution was a strategic move to counter the growing influence of separatist and communal Muslim forces in the future. The statements made by Abdullah, Madani, and Owaisi seem to confirm Nehru's concerns, as expressed by Dalwai.
In the absence of a UCC, Dalwai saw a glaring paradox within a land that proclaimed secularism and unity, yet tolerated the coexistence of disparate legal systems based on religious affiliations. To Dalwai, the notion of a Uniform Civil Code was not merely an academic exercise; it was a moral imperative.
Today, if his vision is to be realised, moral force and persuasion must meet with political authority, and be validated with social acceptance.
The political authority is willing. The persuasion part of the process has been going on for decades now. It is for the social acceptance that the Muslim community needs to find, or create, more than one Hamid Dalwai.
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