The law commission on 14 June issued a notice inviting the “public at large” and “recognised religious organisations” to give views on the UCC.
Muslim clergy, from both the Sunni and Shia sects, and organisations such as the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind (JUH) have all issued strongly-worded statements against the UCC over the past few months.
The AIMPLB Wednesday sent its objections on the UCC to the law commission, while it had drafted its opposition to the move at a meeting in late June. The organisation also issued a statement Wednesday saying the “purely legal” issue had been “fodder for politics and media-driven propaganda”.
Speaking to ThePrint, AIMPLB spokesperson S.Q.R. Ilyas said the UCC was not just a matter affecting Muslims but pertained to the Hindus and other minorities as well.
He recounted that the previous law commission under Supreme Court judge Balbir Singh Chauhan had held, in a consultation paper on “Reform of Family Law” issued in August 2018, that the “formulation of the UCC was neither necessary nor desirable” at that stage.
“Will the Hindu undivided law be applied to all religions? The 21st law commission (under Chauhan) had said the UCC was not required and talked about changes in personal laws. How come it has now become necessary? What has changed over the years? It seems (the UCC) is being used as a political tool for elections,” he said, adding that “while a perception was being created that the UCC will affect only the Muslims, it will affect the tribals and other religions too”.
The JUH also last week criticised the law commission’s move, with its president Maulana Arshad Madani alleging the UCC was aimed at “dividing Hindus and Muslims”.
“They ask ‘how can two laws exist in one house’? We have been living in this country for the past 1,300 years, governments came and went, but we remained firm,” he told the media.
Speaking about PM Narendra Modi’s statement late last month that the UCC was being used to mislead and provoke Muslims, Madani, who is also the principal of Darul Uloom Deoband seminary, said “all of this was absolutely wrong”.
The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH), on its part, sees “politics of polarisation” behind the law commission’s attempt to gauge the public mood on UCC.
Speaking to ThePrint, JIH vice-president Mohammad Salim Engineer said attempts to bring in a UCC were not beneficial for India, because now voices had emerged from the tribal communities and the Sikhs, too, against the same.
“A false idea is being spread that two laws cannot exist in a country. We have a set of laws to govern marriage, divorce and inheritance which have been in place for the past 70 years,” he said.
“The motive behind the (UCC) is to polarise the people and distract them from the main issues, but people are understanding this now. A false idea is also being spread that the UCC will affect only Muslims, but it will affect the Sikhs, tribals and diverse communities in the Northeast as well,” he said.
Talking about the lack of clarity on the UCC, he said there can be no debate on the issue till a formal draft is brought before the public.
“It is a political ploy to start a referendum without first presenting a draft. We want to tell the government that creating such fissures between the public for political benefit is not good for the country,” he told ThePrint.
Activist Shabnam Hashmi also asked about the draft of the UCC.
“There is no draft. One can react to something when a draft is there. The law commission has to provide the draft and, going by the kind of messages being circulated on social media by the right wing, it can be said they don’t know what the UCC is. It is sheer political agenda for polarisation ahead of elections,” she told ThePrint.
She added that “if the government was so concerned about Muslim women, how were the rapists of Bilkis Bano given remission? How could women wrestlers be treated in the manner they were? Why has no action been taken against BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh?”
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‘Why disturb Muslims?’
Two days after the law commission’s notice on UCC, the AIMPLB on 16 June issued a statement calling the UCC “unnecessary, impractical and extremely harmful”, and urged the central government “not to become a reason for division in society by wasting its resources on this unnecessary act”.
The board then put out another statement on 20 June, calling upon professionals from different Muslim establishments to submit their objections on the UCC in maximum numbers to the law commission.
“Just like a Muslim is required to follow the instructions of the Shariat on the issues of namaaz (prayers), roza (fasting), hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) and zakat (alms), in the same way, in connection with issues of customs like marriage, talaq (divorce), khula (separation with mutual consent), legacy and inheritance, etc, every Muslim is bound to follow the instructions of the Shariat,” the AIMPLB stated.
“Every instruction related to these acts pertains to the Quran and Hadees (records of words and actions of the Prophet Mohammad), hence, these instructions have importance in the deen (religion). From the presumed sketch of the UCC, it can be assumed that on many issues, it will be discouraged by the laws of the Shariat,” it added.
JUH’s Madani also talked about the importance of the Shariat, pointing out that Muslims had been following it for the past 1,300 years.
“We want to keep our lives along the same (law). Wherever you have objections, we feel you don’t understand that subject. We say this is our law with which we live and die, why do you tamper with it when you are not affected by it? You can walk on your laws the way you want, Sikhs can follow theirs, Christians their own, and Muslims will follow their own,” he said, while speaking to the media.
“It is true that if there are four people in a family and there are two laws, there will be disturbance. India is not a house but a massive country… and (people) have their own religion. What is your concern to disturb Muslims today?” Madani asked.
Like AIMPLB spokesperson Ilyas, JUH general secretary Maulana Haleem Ullah Qasmi wondered what had changed over the years that the law commission, which had earlier said a UCC was not required, now wanted to bring in one.
“This is being done because of a political agenda ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections,” he told ThePrint.
‘Opportunity for gender-just laws’
Organisations working for the cause of Muslim women and their rights have given mixed reactions on UCC.
Speaking to ThePrint, Zakia Soman, co-founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, said that keeping politics aside, the UCC could be an opportunity to get gender justice and urged the clergy to engage with discussions on the subject and give Muslim women their rights.
Commenting on the debate over the timing of the UCC proposal — a year ahead of the general elections — she said the issue has unfortunately “always been politicised” and has never been about gender parity.
“It (UCC) was not at the right time under the UPA government and not at the right time under the NDA. It is due to persistent patriarchy in the clergy that the Muslim personal law (Shariat) could not be codified in 70 years. Keeping politics aside, this may be the only opportunity for women to engage in the process for gender-just laws,” she said.
Speaking about specific Muslim laws around issues like child marriage, polygamy, nikah halala, guardianship, etc, she pointed out that since the laws are not codified, they are prone to misinterpretation.
Giving the example of the Muslim personal law on marriage, she said that a Muslim girl can marry soon after attaining puberty.
“These days, a girl can attain puberty even at the age of 13. There are judgments of the Delhi and Punjab & Haryana high courts on the issue. One has observed that the age of attaining puberty is 15 years for a Muslim girl, after which she can be married. How can this be acceptable? It is good that polygamy is going down among Muslims but why do we want to keep it at all?” she asked, adding that such practices were introduced 1,400 years ago and the present-day era is totally different.
She also talked about the father being the natural guardian of a child irrespective of the child’s gender, and the controversial practice of nikah halala under which, for reconciliation with her husband after divorce, a woman has to marry another man and consummate that marriage.
“It is not mentioned in the Quran but is the result of a misogynistic mindset and misinterpretation of Muslim laws which are not codified,” she said.
Sumaiya Roshan, president of Girls Islamic organization (GIO), on the other hand, spoke about “women’s issues being brought up unnecessarily”.
“While there is need to get the opinion of women on the subject (UCC), there is a feeling among some that women’s issues are being brought up unnecessarily in the UCC because people want to get something out of nothing,” she told ThePrint, adding that “while the Muslim personal law is just, the way of practising it might be different because of different interpretations. The impression being given is that the UCC will impact only Muslims, but it will impact everyone”.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)
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