Modi must fight religious nuts with Uniform Civil Code

A Uniform Civil Code is the best way to counter religious extremism and ensure justice for women.

 |  8-minute read |   14-11-2014
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Mani Shankar Aiyar, in a blog, had jeeringly said , "Modi the social media mogul and the Great Communicator has kept his mouth shut and his tweet on silent mode", while Hindu bigots are spewing venom and sowing seeds of hatred. In an earlier article, he asked, in his inimitable and provocative style: "Do the Hindus want a Uniform Civil Code?" and further argued that Muslims and other minorities must be allowed their personal laws relating to marriage and property rights. He did not conceal that Muslims, more than any other community, will be aggrieved if a Uniform Civil Code is enforced. He should have posed the question differently and also answered: "Why can't all Indian citizens come under one common civil code?" He is erudite and well-versed in the logic of dialectics and one can rarely win an argument with him. One can only guess whether he is a truly "fanatical secularist" with a twisted logic, a kind of "liberal conservative". Or are his utterances purely political in nature, dictated not by personal belief, but by his party's adversarial relationship with the BJP? So you can't hold it against him if his outbursts reflect the political needs of the moment.

Other articulate left-leaning intellectuals and suave Congress spokesmen (there's no dearth of them), who wear their "secular credentials" on their sleeve like Shashi Tharoor, as well as a few Muslim hardliners waxed eloquent on social media and television about PM Modi's silence, even as the Hindutva hardliners were running amok and were being accused of tearing apart the social fabric of the country.

The actions and outbursts of a few fringe elements associated or allied with the BJP - for example, the despicable behaviour of the Shiv Sena MPs in Maharashtra Sadan where they force-fed a catering employee who was fasting during Ramzan or the frequent, avowedly fanatical ranting of VHP leaders, or the manner in which a BJP leader from Telangana questioned the loyalties of tennis icon Sania Mirza - are all causing serious concern and alarm in the country. Many see a pattern and a "method in their madness".

Not lagging behind in any way, the card-carrying leaders from the BJP are also vitiating the atmosphere by making provocative statements. A minister in the BJP government in Goa went to the extent of saying that India should become a Hindu nation under Modi and the deputy chief minister of the state proclaimed himself to be a "Hindu Christian" in the state Assembly. Such a phrase was hitherto unknown and unthinkable in public discourse before Modi became prime minister. This leaves the field wide open for critics of Modi to question his silence. As it is, Modi's ascent to power created insecurity among the minorities and Modi's detractors are now abetting these fears.

Modi cannot give a fitting answer to the reactionary right wing Hindu leaders and bigots on the one side and the vote-bank politics of secular parties, so called pseudo-secularists and Muslim fanatics on the other end of the spectrum, merely through catchy tweets. Rather, he needs to come up with a firm action plan to administer and rule the nation with a Uniform or Common Civil Code where all citizens are equal under an uniformly applicable law just like the Indian Penal Code. By ushering in police and judicial reforms with autonomy and accountability guaranteed through the Constitution to both institutions, Modi must enforce firmly and ruthlessly the law of the land on all citizens irrespective of their religious affiliation.

In a society which is aiming to be decent, egalitarian and enlightened, the laws have to be amended progressively.

150 years ago, we had practices like Sati and child marriage, which were fortunately abolished by great reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy. Though Sati is no longer practiced, there are still cases of child marriage. Bonded labour was only abolished recently when India became a Republic. Many of these practices have no legal sanction but are still prevalent. Hindus, themselves an amorphous people, do not have uniform customs and practices. There are a myriad castes and sub-castes, with their own beliefs and systems, both for marriage and re-marriage, which is different for men and women.

The norms providing property rights are also not equally applied. Among Hindus in many parts of the country, widows are still forbidden from remarrying, even if they are in their teens, but men can freely marry again if widowed. In many communities, the man marries the unmarried sister of his wife. Whether it is the dreaded khaps or the ancient practices in many castes, either for property rights, or marriages or divorce and alimony, it is the women who suffer the most. And it is the same among Muslims and their sub-sects or other minority faiths and tribals in the country. In the name of religion and the power it bestows on them, they practice tyranny, and it is the women who suffer ignominy, shame, privations, and denial of social, economic and political equality, and dignity.

When the Supreme Court recently passed the judgement making "fatwas" illegal, learned maulanas and dyed-in-the-wool Congress leaders tried to defend their rights to practice their religion, including fatwas, by invoking the paranoia of persecution and their constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. The Supreme Court decree pertained to the case of a father-in-law who raped his daughter-in-law and the punishment meted out by the fatwa was for the father-in-law to live with the daughter-in-law, the rape victim. One of the bizarre arguments offered was that it was to punish the father-in-law to live and maintain that girl whom he had raped in his lust, which would serve as a deterrent to the rest of the Muslims - completely overlooking the cruelty and barbaric nature of the crime. They did not even consider that such a punishment could actually encourage more rapes. And what about the woman who is the unfortunate victim? Did anyone ask for her?

Let us take a look at the Moradabad communal violence recently. A Hindu temple in the midst of a predominantly Muslim populated area was intent on broadcasting its programmes on a public loudspeaker which was objected to by the Muslim community. This is obviously a reactionary assertion by the right wing Hindu zealots. We all know that mosques across the country blare their early morning and evening prayers throughout the country through a public mike system throughout the year, even if they are located in residential areas, disregarding the reality that there may be others of different faiths living in and around the mosque. This is illegal. The law does not permit either a temple, mosque or synagogue or a gurudwara to broadcast its religious prayers, preaching over a public address system and disturbing the peace and quiet of a neighbourhood. Yet mosques continue the practice and political parties do not object. People of other communities have to suffer for fear of incurring the animosity of Muslims. The Moradabad incident was the retaliation of right wing elements of the BJP and its ideological allies and sympathisers. If the government of the day and the police enforce the law by letter and spirit, neither appeasing nor discriminating against Hindus, Muslims or people of any other religion, then incidents like the one in Moradabad will never recur.

The US, which is today a nation of immigrants, who outnumber the original Pilgrim Fathers - who were also immigrants but seen as true Americans or Boston Brahmins - is a real melting pot of modern civilisation and has the greatest ethnic diversity compared to any other nation. The US has one common civil code and penal code. And the justice system has evolved over more than two hundred years since its independence. Who can believe women had no franchise in America a few decades ago or that slavery existed in this land and even the first president of America George Washington had African slaves? And India - to remain united, and in peace and harmony - must quickly move in that direction.

It should be no one's case to foist the civil code applicable to the Hindus on Muslims or other minorities. Not just fatwas and Shariat courts, khap panchayat can be as inhuman and unjust to women if not more. Every citizen must come under a common civil and penal code so that all are equal under the law. A nation will be considered barbaric if it cannot protect its women and give them total freedom and equal opportunities to lead a creative and liberal life, without fear of their men. If a country allows either "minoritism" or "majoritism" for vote-bank politics, there can never be communal harmony. Without peace, development is neither possible nor desirable.

Without losing any more time, the Modi government must quickly appoint eminent jurists under the guidance of the Supreme Court to take the best from the democratic world of developed economies as well as the diverse civil codes followed by different religious communities in India, and pass a well-crafted and well thought out Uniform Civil Code in Parliament. It should become a law in every state in India without any exception to ensure equity and justice to all. India will then be destined to not only become a truly developed country but also a modern and civilised society, where the creative energies of its men and women from all religions can flourish in equal triumph.


Captain Gopinath Captain Gopinath @captaingopinath

An entrepreneur, founder of Air Deccan, a retired Captain of the Indian Army, an author, and a politician.

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