Modi’s Latest Push for Uniform Civil Code Sparks Concerns

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Shaikh Azizur Rahman

AN apparent push by India’s government to consider implementation of the Uniform Civil Code, essentially a common set of personal laws for all Indian citizens, has raised concerns that the ruling party is trying to split society along communal lines.

After Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last week that the country could not run on the dual system of “separate laws for separate communities” and several media reports suggested the government could soon move for consideration of the implementation of the UCC in Parliament, opposition leaders cried foul, calling it a plot by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party to enforce a Hindu majoritarian agenda.

Indian citizens of different religions follow their own doctrines and customs for marriage, divorce, inheritance of property and adoption. The UCC, which is mentioned in the constitution, would be a single law for all Indians.

It could not be confirmed whether the government plans to push the legislation.

Muslim leaders said that by calling for the introduction of the UCC, Modi and his Hindu nationalist party are trying to polarise society along communal lines, aiming to garner votes from the Hindu majority in general elections next year.

Speaking at a June 27 BJP meeting in Bhopal, Modi asked, “How is this possible to have one law for one member of a family and another law for another member? Will that family be able to function properly? How can a country run on such a dual system?”

The BJP has campaigned for the UCC for several decades, saying current laws encourage inequality and do not fit well in secular India and several right-wing Hindus have expressed support for the idea.

Senior BJP leader Alok Vats told VOA, “Some religious entities may not like this idea because of their dogmatic thinking, but the UCC will be good if implemented in the true spirit of the nation.

“We must seek opinion of all sects and discuss at length with opposition parties, too, so that it augurs well with the masses,” he said.

Legal scholar Faizan Mustafa, a Muslim and former vice chancellor of NALSAR University of Law in Hyderabad, said he wants to see the UCC implemented because it is in the Indian constitution as a suggestion made by those who drafted the charter.

“Furthermore, it can help eradicate social evils in the country. For instance, although child marriage is punishable by law, it’s still not considered void as per the Hindu marriage laws. I completely agree with the prime minister’s views on the UCC,” Mustafa said.

The UCC, however, is being met with heavy skepticism by some.

Abhay Kumar, a newspaper columnist and expert on Muslim issues, told VOA the Modi government has failed to follow the suggestions made in previous years by the 21st Law Commission, an expert body set up to advise the government on legal reform.

“In 2016, the 21st Law Commission sought the public opinion on the controversial question of the UCC,” Kumar said. “A follow-up report was published in August 2018, where the commission stated that uniform laws were not needed. Instead, it underscored the importance of ending gender discrimination and promoting cultural diversity. Yet, the 22nd Law Commission was asked to seek suggestions on a subject that has already been settled,” meaning the UCC.

Over the past week, social activists and Muslim leaders held online meetings to express their concerns.

Zafarul Islam Khan, former chairman of Delhi Minority Commission, told VOA the UCC is a “desperate poll gimmick” orchestrated by the BJP to gain votes.

“Modi is scouring for emotive issues to pander to the Hindu majority, as he has nothing positive to show to the electorate,” he said.

Before a state visit to the United States in June, Modi had been severely criticized over the Indian government’s treatment of minority rights.

John Dayal, a Christian community leader, expressed his concerns over the government’s intentions toward the safety, security and preservation of culture of all religious minorities on a level playing field.

“Artificial uniformity and coercion will injure all regions, including the majority one. The Christian community also believes in caring if any other community faces violence or coercion from any state or nonstate actors,” he told VOA.

Flavia Agnes, an Indian women’s rights lawyer and activist, said that in a country as diverse as India, a “one nation, one law” principle would only harm vulnerable communities further.

Citing patriarchal laws, she told VOA, “Instead of a UCC, we need reform in different personal laws to weed out gender discrimination at all levels. This includes the Muslim Personal Law, which contains several discriminations against women, including polygamy and instant divorce.”

Opposition leaders also have spoken out against the UCC and its potential impact on minorities.

“This can only be seen as a plot to enforce their majoritarian agenda of ‘one nation, one culture’ by eliminating our nation’s cultural diversity,” the chief minister of Kerala state, Communist Pinarayi Vijayan said.

“India is distinguished by its diversity, which embraces differences and disagreements, rather than a uniformity that suppresses them.”

Muslim activist Zafarul Islam Khan pointed to comment by former law minister and leader of the Congress Party Veerappa Moily that India has about 250 personal laws, most of them Hindu.

“It will not be easy for Mr. Modi to satisfy all. This divisive scheme will finally fall flat,” Khan said.

c. VOA

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