Common Civil Code - the Law Commission Takes the First Step
Dr A Surya Prakash

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, 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 over the decades.

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 come out in the open and demand their rights. The question therefore is not why the Law Commission has launched this initiative now, but why this national 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 59 report dwelt on the amendments to the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and the Special Marriage Act, 1954. The 71 Report re-visited this issue and the commission took the view that irretrievable breakdown of marriage constituted a ground for divorce. In its 73 report the commission criminal liability for failure by husband to pay maintenance granted to the wife by the court. The 74 report reviewed the Hindu Widows Remarriage ct , 1856 and the 83 report dealt with the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890 and certain provisions of the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956. The 1980s saw a huge jump in reporting of dowry deaths leading to a nation-wide campaign for stricter laws to deal with a married woman’s husband, in-laws and other near relatives who harassed her for dowry and indulged in cruelty and barbaric acts like bride burning when her parents failed to meet their demands. The commission turned its focus on this issue in its 91 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 98 report.

The commission examined property rights of women and proposed reforms in Hindu Law for this purpose in its 174 report, returned to irretrievable breakdown of marriage as another ground of divorce in its 217 report. The right of a Hindu wife to maintenance was examined in the 252 report.

Over the years, the Law Commission has dealt with many customary and personal laws pertaining to the Christian community as well. The 15 Report related to marriage and divorce among Christians in India. The 90 report examined the grounds of divorce amongst Christians and Section 10 of the Indian Divorce Act, 1869. The 224 report of the commission examined the Divorce Act, 1869 once again and recommended amendment to enable non-domiciled estranged Christian wives to seek divorce.

In the light of this evidence, how can anyone say that the commission is specially targeting Muslims? The opposition to the Law Commission’s questionnaire is therefore beyond comprehension.

In its questionnaire, the commission asks respondents whether they are aware of Article 44 of the Constitution and whether a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) include subjects such as marriage, divorce, adoption, guardianship and child custody, maintenance, succession and inheritance? Further, should personal and customary practices be codified to bring them in line with fundamental rights.

The questionnaire has many questions pertaining specifically to Hindus and Christians. It asks whether law should ensure that Hindu women are better able to exercise their right to property, which is often bequeathed to sons under customary practices and whether the two-year period of wait for finalizing divorce violates Christian women’s right to equality. 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 should be abolished in toto, retained or retained with suitable 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 the exclusive preserve of Muslims, yet whenever polygamy is questioned, the Muslim clergy presumes that it is a campaign against adherents of Islam.

Respondents are also asked how compulsory registration of marriages can be implemented and what measures should be taken to protect couples who enter into inter-religon or inter-caste marriages.

In the light of all this facts, should we allow a few Mullahs to derail or disrupt our constitutional 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.

(The author is Chairman, Prasar Bharti)


Published Date: 25th November 2016, Image Source: http://i.ndtvimg.com

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