[As regards the latest move by the GOI / Law Commission of India / BJP on
the UCC front: some quick comments.

*I*. The timing of the move is utterly suspect.
*It's apparently designed to be brought to boil coinciding with the coming
parliamentary poll.*
*When the Prime Minister makes it the topmost issue to inaugurate his
(assembly) poll campaign in Madhya Pradesh without bothering to wait for
the Commission's recommendation, that suspicion gets even stronger.*
Also relevant is the fact that the previous Commission in *2018* had
clearly opined against UCC and submitted some detailed recommendations.
*II*. However, UCC was demanded in the past by a number of women's
organisations to secure gender justice.
Quite likely, this is the usual norm in most other countries.
*III*. The essential problem is that "right to religion" often clashes with
the notion of "gender justice". For religions are quite often -- though not
always -- misogynistic.
*IV*. It's this very anomaly -- the clash between two laudable ideas --
that the regime wants to weaponise via selective targeting.
To be sure, the regime is very much waving the banner of "gender justice"
along with that of "national unity".
*V*. Of course, both the alibis are essentially spurious.
The worshippers of Manu, the perpetrators of Bilkis Balo and felicitators
of the prematurely released convicted rapists, the opponents of entry
of women of all ages into the Sabarimala Temple -- are hardly the ones to
be taken as champions of gender justice. And not to forget Manipur and Brij
Bhushan Sharan Singh either.
As regards "unity", it's, of course, not coterminous with "uniformity".
That's why the anti-colonial nationalist movement put "Unity in Diversity"
very much on a pedestal.
*VI*. Last but not the least, the sheer absence of any whatever draft
presented for consideration and deliberations makes the business of
commenting on it all the more tricky and, perhaps, somewhat ridiculous too.
It also further reinforces the suspicion that *the real intention is only
to trigger communal conflicts and thereby polarise the society. This move
being just one of (too) many geared towards that, albeit meant to be a
critical one -- in the context of the coming general election*.
Not to mistake, the polarisation programme is, of course, both short term
and long term.

The analytical comment reproduced below is a remarkably informed scan of
the proposal focusing mainly on its technical aspects including what it
means to figure in the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution.


Uniform Civil Code: Another step towards making India a Hindu Rashtra?The
elusive quest for a UCC raises questions of cultural imposition in India’s
diverse society.

Published : Jul 27, 2023 11:00 IST

Many Indian Muslims baulk at any mention of reforming Muslim Personal Law,
but some within the community stress the need for reforms to root out many
prevalent non-Islamic practices. | Photo Credit: Mukhtar Khan

In its recent public notice, the 22nd Law Commission of India solicited
“views and ideas of the public at large and recognised religious
organisations about the Uniform Civil Code [UCC]”. In August 2018, the 21st
Law Commission had put out a Consultation Paper on Reform of Family Law and
not a draft of UCC. Based on research and consultation with experts, it
said that “the issue of uniform civil code is vast, and its potential In a
recent public notice, the 22nd Law Commission of India solicited “views and
ideas of the public at large and recognised religious organisations about
the uniform civil code [UCC]”. In August 2018, the 21st Law Commission had
put out a Consultation Paper on Reform of Family Law and not a draft of
UCC. Based on research and consultation with experts, it said that “the
issue of uniform civil code is vast, and its potential repercussions
untested, in India”.

The commission took a clear stand that neither the right to equality nor
the freedom of religion are absolute, and urged the legislature to “first
consider guaranteeing equality ‘within communities’ between men and women,
rather than ‘equality between ‘communities’”. It called for preserving
meaningful differences within personal laws while weeding out inequality
“to the greatest extent possible without absolute uniformity”.

It is not clear *what *the 22nd Law Commission is inviting people to
comment upon since no draft of a UCC has been placed in the public domain
by either the Law Commission or any Ministry. Nor has the 22nd Law
Commission provided any reason why it has completely set aside its
predecessor’s 2018 consultation paper.

The Supreme Court, political and religious leaders, public figures, legal
scholars, public intellectuals, and now media influencers have discussed
the possibility of a UCC, but no government has yet presented a proper
conceptualisation. No one has given an idea of what the UCC could look
like. Legal scholars have gone so far as to call the UCC a “complete
fiction”, so this fresh move by the government exposes the UCC as a
political sleight of hand.
Theoretically laudable, but impractical

Despite promising to enact the UCC in its 2014 manifesto, the BJP
government too has not been able to come up with a draft. On at least one
occasion the BJP said that the UCC would contain progressive elements of
all personal laws. This legal vision, strangely coming from the BJP, is
reminiscent of Mughal Emperor Akbar’s syncretic order—theoretically
laudable but impractical. The timing and content of these “UCC
discussions”, however, suggest that it is part of the BJP’s repertoire of
electoral tricks to target Muslims and create social rift.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, who regularly uses terms
like “love jehad” and “land jehad”, has now said his government will
implement the UCC, drafted by a committee headed by retired Supreme Court
Judge Ranjana Prakash Desai. This committee too invited “comments on UCC”
without a draft. News reports have cited unnamed sources to suggest that a
draft is now “ready to be printed” even though nothing is yet in public or
placed in the Uttarakhand legislature. The reports appear to be prompted by
deliberate leaks.

While there are many Indian Muslims who baulk at any mention of reforming
Muslim Personal Law, others stress the need for reforms to root out many
prevalent non-Islamic practices. Still others believe that Islamic
jurisprudence values human reason along with divine or transcendental
knowledge to judge what is right and wrong, and that Muslim Personal Law,
like most other laws, needs amendments to fine-tune it for emerging

Unfortunately, the hollow narrative of “discussing UCC” is not unique to
the BJP. Most commentators frequently reduce the discussion to portraying
Muslim Personal Law as a symbol of the Indian Muslim’s conservatism, and
the Hindu Code as having been perfected as far as gender justice is
concerned. Ergo, many aggressive proponents of the UCC assume and insinuate
that it will be in the image of the Hindu Personal Law. The UCC is also
regularly portrayed to mean that only Muslim Personal Law will be
abolished. Thus, Muslim opposition to the UCC is in essence an opposition
to the imposition of a Hindu civil law in the garb of UCC.

The fresh stoking of the debate is political chatter devoid of any legal
content. The BJP’s discourse insinuates that it is another step towards
making India a Hindu Rashtra after the abrogation of Article 370 and the
passage of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019. [The Citizenship
(Amendment) Act, 2019, aims to grant fast-track citizenship to migrants
belonging to the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, or Christian
communities from Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who entered India
illegally on or before December 12, 2014.]

   - The 22nd Law Commission of India has sought public views on the
   uniform civil code. The BJP has not been able to come up with a draft yet.
   - The UCC debate is often politicised, and its implementation raises
   concerns about cultural impositions and loss of identity.
   - The process of reforming personal laws needs to be inclusive and
   voluntary. It needs wide, inclusive, and voluntary engagement of the
   communities concerned.

Gender justice

It bears repeating that women identified in Indian law as “Hindu” follow
different customary laws. It would be impossible for anyone reasonable to
argue that all women following the Hindu personal law are fully
emancipated. Those confident of achieving gender justice via the enactment
of the UCC have their task cut out because they have not only failed at
envisioning a truly uniform civil law but have also not articulated what a
gender-just and equal Indian society will look like.

Protest against the ban on triple talaq and the imposition of a uniform
civil code, in Raichur, Karnataka, in November 2016. | Photo Credit:
Santosh Sagar

The questions that need answers are: Will the Hindu family law also be
replaced by the UCC? Will customary laws followed by various communities
across India (some recognised by the formal judicial system—371A, 371G of
the Constitution recognise Naga and Mizo customary laws, for example) also
be abolished? Will the Hindu Undivided Family law, which gives special
tax-saving benefits only to ‘Hindus’—who are defined as everyone not
Muslim, Christian, Parsi, and Jew—and which costs the Indian exchequer
heavily, be abolished under the UCC? Can all citizens adopt *mehr*? Should
all marriages be based on a model contract? Can all communities agree to a
matrilineal line of inheritance like Meghalaya’s Khasi tribe?

While the Muslim opposition to a UCC is flagged, most of these questions
will be answered in the negative even by Hindus. Even a syncretic UCC
adopting the “best of all religions” will be experienced as oppressive.
With their tumultuous and contested history, can Indians be blind to the
fact that forcing people of one culture to live by the tenets of another is

That apart, the most desirable of gender-just family laws require a more
radical feminist interpretation which unfortunately even today read as
utopian fantasies. I cannot imagine them being palatable to present-day

“They have not articulated what a gender-just and equal Indian society will
look like.”

The most important question that is rarely asked is: What is the rationale
behind having the UCC in the Directive Principles of State Policy? Those
who remember their civics lessons will know that the Directive Principles
in Part IV of the Constitution acted as a parking lot for controversial
provisions over which no consensus could be reached by the Constituent
Assembly, and they left it for future generations of Indians to decide.

For example, Ambedkar saw village panchayats as a sanction for the
continuation of caste-ridden village communities. Article 40 was included
in the Directive Principles. The 73rd Amendment apart, this provision has
long provided legal cover to caste panchayats such as khaps in northern
India and is not deemed to be against social justice. Indeed, these
panchayats are often proven to perpetuate gender injustice. Similarly,
Article 48 contains controversial provisions that continue to provide cover
for communal politics and legislation around meat and leather industries as
well as livestock.

All Directive Principles declare towards what end a particular policy is
directed and what it will bring to the people of India. Only Article 44,
the provision on the UCC, is silent about its grounds or benefits.

It is interesting that various other provisions in the Directive Principles
that pertain to international peace, protection of environment and heritage
monuments, the right to work and livelihood, health of workers, free legal
aid, and so on, are routinely ignored, while provisions that impose
material hardships and cultural violence on marginalised communities are
taken up with excessive zeal.

Legal scholars have studied the Constituent Assembly debates for a clue as
to why the need for a UCC was felt at all. One of the anxieties articulated
about pluralism was that it would be against national unity. Prime Minister
Narendra Modi in his recent speech also spoke of “running the country on
separate laws”. In saying this, he echoed charges of Muslim “separatism”
and stoked outrage that minorities have “their own laws” in a Hindu
majority country.
Ambedkar’s assurance in the Constituent Assembly

The need for a UCC has achieved an axiomatic status owing to the constant
incantation that it was a dream of the founding fathers of the republic.
But it is debatable whether it is moral or even rational to make cultural
impositions on people and communities. Dr Ambedkar gave Muslims an
assurance in the Constituent Assembly. He said the provision “… merely
proposes that the State shall endeavour to secure a civil code for the
citizens of the country. It does not say that after the Code is framed the
State shall enforce it upon all citizens merely because they are citizens.
It is perfectly possible that the future Parliament may make a provision by
way of making a beginning that the Code shall apply only to those who make
a declaration that they are prepared to be bound by it, so that in the
initial stages the application of the Code may be purely voluntary.” Even
in his wider interventions on the debate, Ambedkar was unambiguous about
legal pluralism.

At a meeting of the Shariat court organised by the Bharathiya Muslim Mahila
Andolan in Dindigul, Tamil Nadu. A file picture. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Owing to India’s federal nature, pluralism is seen on many legal fronts in
differing degrees, and not just in family law. Since 2014, the BJP
government has shown centralising tendencies on issues such as the GST,
imposition of Hindi, or usurping the powers of State governments.

The perversion of democracy through the rhetoric of a “double-engine
government” is taking place in plain view and has been normalised as
strategic acumen. “Uniformity” is the BJP’s dogwhistle for its relentless
pursuit of concentration of power.

“Owing to India’s federal nature, pluralism is seen on many legal fronts in
differing degrees, and not just in family law.”

Legal pluralism has problems and paradoxes similar to multiculturalism as
state policy or indeed democracy as a system of governance. However, there
is enough historical evidence worldwide to suggest that legal pluralism as
an approach to governance in a diverse society cannot be discarded as a
relic of the past. Indeed, it would be devastating.

The legal fiction of a UCC should be divested in favour of a progressive
civil code, which, following Ambedkar’s view in the Constituent Assembly,
can be made optional. Any citizen can volunteer to access it or opt out of
it in a way similar to the Special Marriage Act or the adoption provisions
under the Juvenile Justice Act.

Periodic review of personal laws is also required. The process of reforming
personal laws need not be strictly internal to a community. It can involve
advocates and experts in a particular personal law. A codification process
that pursues only those reforms favoured by powerful voices within and
outside the minorities needs to be avoided. All this needs wide, inclusive,
and voluntary engagement of the communities concerned.

This process can be facilitated and encouraged by state agencies, but this
can only happen in an environment of trust, when communities believe that
the state is a neutral arbitrator and invested in ensuring the happiness of
the greatest number of people. This is impossible under the present BJP

*Ghazala Jamil teaches at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance,
Jawaharlal Nehru University.*



   UNIFORM CIVIL CODE <https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/>
   Uniform Civil Code: Tribal communities fear erosion of customary laws,
   cultural heritage
   Sushanta Talukdar



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