The campaign launched by the radical Muslim clergy and phony liberals against the Law Commission of India’s well-intentioned and long overdue exercise to undertake a revision and reform of family laws in line with the constitutional mandate in Article 44 to bring in a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), is yet another example of the maladjustment of some sections of the citizenry to the core values in our Constitution. The Law Commission has put out a questionnaire and asked citizens, irrespective of denomination, to respond to the issues raised in it. It has said that the objective behind the endeavour is “to address discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise the various cultural practices” and to start a “healthy conversation” about the viability of a common civil code. The aim of the exercise is to examine family laws of all religions and to tackle social injustice.
How can any citizen of democratic India take exception to this? The Muslim clergy, which seeks to block constitutional rights of Muslim women in the name of religious freedom, has taken exception to the Law Commission’s efforts and also tried to portray the commission’s effort as an attempt to target Muslims. Anyone who examines the work of the commission since its inception will realise that this is utter rubbish. While the commission has rarely, if ever, discussed Muslim Personal Law, it has examined and opined on Hindu and Christian laws. In fact, there is a pattern to this. In the view of the Muslim clergy and their pseudo-secular cohorts, every institution in the country has a right to interfere with religious practices of the Hindus, Christians and others, but the Muslims are a class apart.
Similarly, when it comes to re-location of places of worship and some such measure to be undertaken by the state for the public good, the state can do so with respect of every place of worship except those belonging to the Muslims. The attitude of the clergy to such issues has not only disturbed communal harmony but also deprived Muslim women of their constitutional rights. It is therefore heartening to see Muslim women like Sharaya Bano and several Muslim women’s groups demanding their rights. The question therefore is not why the Law Commission has launched this initiative now, but why this commission, which has such an important remit, allowed Muslim women to suffer such deprivation in terms of their fundamental rights for 66 years after our Constitution came into being. For those who spread the canard that the commission is targeting Muslims, here is a glimpse of the commission’s interventions in respect of Hindu customs and laws since its inception. The 59th report dwelt on the amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The 71st report re-visited this issue and the commission took the view that irretrievable breakdown of marriage constituted a ground for divorce. The 73rd report discussed criminal liability of husband for non-payment of maintenance.
The 74th and 83rd reports reviewed the Hindu Widows Remarriage Act and the Guardians and Wards Act and the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act. The 1980s saw a huge jump in reporting of dowry deaths leading to a nation-wide campaign for stricter laws to deal with a husbands, in-laws and other relatives who harass a woman for dowry and indulge in barbaric acts like bride burning when her parents failed to meet their demands. The commission turned its focus on this issue in its 91st report. It recommended amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. The commission returned to the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act in its 98th report. The commission examined property rights of women and proposed reforms in Hindu Law for this purpose in its 174th report, returned to irretrievable breakdown of marriage as another ground of divorce in its 217th report. The right of a Hindu wife to maintenance was examined in the 252nd report.
The commission has dealt with many customary and personal laws pertaining to Christians also. The 15th and 90th reports examined marriage laws and the grounds of divorce amongst Christians, whereas the 224th discussed changes to enable non-domiciled estranged Christian wives to seek divorce. In light of this evidence, how can anyone say that the commission is targeting Muslims? The opposition to the commission’s questionnaire is thus beyond comprehension. In its questionnaire, the commission asks respondents whether they are aware of Article 44 of the Constitution and whether a UCC includes subjects such as marriage, divorce, adoption, guardianship and child custody, maintenance, succession and inheritance. It has many questions pertaining specifically to Hindus and Christians. Question number 6 asks whether polygamy, polyandry and customary practices such as Maitri-karar (friendship deed) should be banned or regulated while question number 7 asks whether the practice of triple talaq be abolished in toto, retained or retained with amendments. The Muslim clergy has reacted adversely to the questionnaire itself, but in particular to these two questions. While triple talaq is entirely an Islamic affair, polygamy stands on a different footing. Polygamy is not exclusive to Muslims, yet whenever polygamy is questioned, the Muslim clergy presumes that it is a campaign against adherents of Islam. In the light of all this facts, should we allow a few Mullahs to derail or disrupt our march towards equality and fraternity? The Nehruvians and their Marxists cohorts have allowed the Mullahs to trample on our constitutional rights since independence and given them the veto power on everything. This must end.
A Surya Prakash is the Chairman of Prasar Bharati