The UCC is not about painting the country in “one colour”; it is about giving fundamental rights supremacy and guaranteeing everyone equality before the law.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), an organisation comprising hidebound clerics who often oppose progressive ideas, has shown its patriarchal mindset once again by deciding to boycott the Law Commission’s questionnaire seeking its views on a Uniform Civil Code (UCC).
At a news conference yesterday (13 October), the board alleged that the Law Commission’s questionnaire was a covert attempt to impose a UCC, and this tied in with the Narendra Modi government’s affidavit in the Supreme Court to ban triple talaq. The Hindu quotes Jamait Ulema-e-Hind president, Maulana Arshad Madani, a member of the AIMPLB, as saying this is “destructive”. The government, he said, “should try to fix this and ensure peace than seeking views on issues like UCC”. AIMPLB general secretary Wali Rehmani claimed the UCC was about reducing diversity, seeking to paint the country in “one colour”.
All the arguments are bunkum, and the government should call not only the AIMPLB’s bluff, but all so-called “secular” parties’ equivocation on the UCC. The same secularists who think gau raksha cannot be a national obsession (and one must agree here), cannot go around defending patriarchy and narrow religious laws when it comes to the minorities.
Here’s why the AIMPLB’s arguments make no sense.
One, all that the Law Commission has done is seek to elicit opinion. And it has sought the opinion of not only the AIMPLB, but all communities. By boycotting it, the AIMPLB has effectively shown that it is afraid to engage with even the idea and refute it on merits. This shows what kind of democratic discourse it wants, where the nation’s agenda will be decided by an obdurate patriarchy. It is also wrong to presume that the UCC will not be opposed by other communities. The Christian, Jain and Sikh communities may also oppose the idea.
Two, the UCC is not about painting the country in “one colour”; it is about giving fundamental rights supremacy over other pre-existing laws and practices (article 13), and guaranteeing everyone equality before the law (article 14). The AIMPLB, for example, has not questioned the existence of a UCC, even though the Islamic Sharia has its own criminal code. If the AIMPLB is okay with the Indian Penal Code, but not with the UCC, it suggests duplicity, not consistency.
Adoption of a UCC does not mean any diminution of the rights given to religious and cultural minorities. Ceremonies and practices and rituals – which are core to religious identity – can continue as before. UCC will not even prevent a woman from accepting triple talaq if she chooses to and gets in written in her marriage contract. What UCC will give her is the right to not accept triple talaq. (However, UCC is not just about women and triple talaq; it will cover an entire range of laws, including inheritance, etc).
Three, the BJP has been accused of trying to politicise and communalise the situation using UCC as the device. But isn’t that what all political parties do? Do “secular” parties not oppose UCC because they fear a loss of the minority vote? Do parties not back narrow quota agitations precisely to polarise and create vote banks? One cannot vouch for the BJP’s motivations in pushing UCC, but the only way to judge an idea is if it is right and fair. That the BJP may be pushing for banning triple talaq for narrow considerations does not matter if the idea itself is right.
Four, the AIMPLB also sees the UCC as diluting the guarantees given to minorities under articles 25-30. This again is wrong. Reason: in actual practice, articles 25-30 have ensured that the government meddles in the religious and cultural rights of the so-called majority, while leaving the minorities alone. Even the Right to Education (RTE) Act burdens only “majority” institutions, not “minority” ones. The damage inflicted by RTE on the quality of education and learning outcomes has impacted only majority institutions. Articles 25-30 need to be modified to ensure that we don’t end up with perverse outcomes.
The fundamental problem with the Indian Constitution (and various court judgments) is that the terms “majority” and “minority” have been vicariously defined. The court recognises minorities based on two criteria – linguistic and religion – and these depend on headcounts within the geography of a state.
But such ideas of minority are both outdated and irrelevant in the age of labour mobility, immigration and globalisation. The real minorities that need protection are the super minorities within each group – these could be women, the LGBT community, the ideological dissenters, etc. The definition of “minority” has to be contextual, and cannot be merely geographical. And it is by no means certain that defining anyone who is not a Muslim, Christian, Sikh or Jain as belonging to a theoretical “majority” is valid anymore. When Hindus are deeply divided by caste, language and religious rituals and outlook within themselves, why not treat all Indians as deserving of minority protection?
Coming back to the UCC, it is not a minority-majority issue. It is about defending the minority of one – individual human and other rights.
If the AIMPLB’s bluff is called, it will crumble.