When it Comes to Uniform Civil Code, Fear and Reform are Contradictory

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Muslims in India live in constant fear. To bring about social reforms, it is first necessary to create a congenial atmosphere. Unfortunately, the Modi government has miserably failed on this front.

Representational image. Credit: Hernán Piñera. Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Representational image. Credit: Hernán Piñera. Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The common perception that is gaining ground regarding the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is that Muslims are vehemently opposed to it, that they enjoy preferential rights above constitution and thus have no regard for the laws of the land. Once again the community is under the impression of misgivings.

Muslims as law abiding citizens

Muslims are as respectful of the country’s laws as other Indian citizens. They have as many rights enshrined in the constitution as citizens of other faiths do. Anyone who violates the law is charged under the same Indian Penal Code (IPC).

From laws pertaining to everything, from domestic violence, land disputes, rape and murder to forgery and dowry, Muslims, as Indian citizens, follow all the rules that come under the purview of the country’s civil and criminal laws.

As with other citizens, Muslims’ regular affairs, such as day-to-day economic activities, dealing with banking systems and life insurance policies, to list just a few, are governed by the uniform laws of the country. Muslims do not feel uneasy in obeying these laws.

In fact, they don’t even bother with the question of if these activities are Islamic or un-Islamic, yet the media’s discourse around the UCC has been articulated in a way that makes many of us believe that Muslims are more loyal to Islamic systems of justice – that is, more adamant about implementation of Sharia law in India – than the secular one.

This misplaced public perception is truly tragic and unfortunate. Muslims have been given as much right to practice their religion as that awarded to other communities in the country. Articles 15 and 25 of the constitution testify to this. However, Muslims’ practice of faith is singled out as the one to be suspected of being against the spirit of Bharat Mata.

Muslims’ fear

Muslims in India consider themselves the victims of time. They live in perpetual fear of poverty and communal violence, of constantly being suspected of sympathising with terrorists, and more recently, the diktats of the gau rakhshaks (cow protectors). The fear has crippled the Muslim community to such an extent that they are helpless to overcome it.

At times, attempts are made to scare Muslims through the fabrication of idioms like ‘love jihad’. The frightening spectre of ghar wapsi or ‘homecoming’ is just one more addition to their sense of restlessness and pessimism.

The anxiety is so ingrained among them that the community has developed a guilty conscience for anything they do and practice. Significantly, some women even avoid wearing the hijab while travelling in case they are singled out or attacked.

In this environment of insecurity, any talk about reforms concerning the Muslim community, such as the on-going triple talaq controversy, the modernisation of the madrasa system of education or even the idea of a UCC, is likely to make them suspicious about the intentions of the government.

Fear and reform are contradictory

Fear and reform are antithetical to each other. They simply cannot go together. To bring about social reforms, it is first necessary to create a congenial atmosphere. Unfortunately, on this front, the Modi government has miserably failed. Instead, the rhetoric of BJP leaders has only widened the gulf.

Muslims in India are very adaptive. They are uniquely different from those in the Middle East. The way they participate in the social and political affairs of the state bear witness to their democratic and secular credentials. Their appearance and habits, tastes and attire, and conventions and traditions are purely indigenous, similar to those of any other community in the country.

Muslims are not hostile to reforms provided the community is taken into confidence. Already the voices of thousands from the community have come to the fore to review the context of the triple talaq in one sitting. However, there are still many who fear the intentions of decency behind such reforms.

Read: Islam Does Not Sanction Triple Talaq in One Sitting

‘While Muslims breathe in fear, the very overtures of reforms by the BJP government stand hollow,’ is a common sentiment among members of the community.

Sarfraz Adil, a medical practitioner, expresses his concern: ‘They are the same people who never said a single word to support an old tired lady, Zakia Jaferi, during her long struggle to get justice for the brutal murder of her husband and other fellow residents of Gulberg society. Where were they sleeping when hundreds of Muslim women were raped and gang raped in communal riots., from 2002 Gujarat carnage to the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots? Why did they not come out in support of a girl, Zahira Shaikh, who was fighting cases for justice against the beasts who set Best Bakery on fire where 28 people were burnt alive? Uttering talaq to a woman is a lesser thing in comparison to the above crimes committed. They have nothing to do with worsening situations of Muslim women.”

Many anguished Muslims share Adil’s concerns. The government in power, if it wills, has both the resources and opportunities at its disposal to address the most critical grievance – fear – of the Muslim community. So long as a sense of deprivation persists, the community will remain skeptical of reforms. And that is not acceptable for a nation looking forward to be a super power.

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  • subhasis ghosh

    Well said.

  • Rose

    @Rohini…You have missed the essence and spirit of the article. The write-up is not about Uniform Civil Code. It is about the ‘fear’ of Muslims under Modi India. You seem to be as callous and unconcerned about the fear-plight of a particular community as that of the ruling government. Briefly, the author is trying to express the psychology of insecurity. So long as fear remains alive, genuine reforms will ever be doubted. A balanced reflection of thought by the author.

    • Rohini

      Dear Rose,
      First off..I completely understand what you call ‘fear of the Muslims under MOdi’ as being the ONLY purpose of the article. However, I, as a citizen, I realise this is just a smoke screen. What about women like me who have no idea what laws they fall under and who have a fear of being compelled to fall into one religion or the other? I want to be treated equal to other women AND men, not based on religious laws. I want to be the equal of my husband, my father, my brother, my male or female friend. I want this for my children,irrespective of what religion they may follow in the future, no matter whom they end up marrying.
      I am arguing for a Uniform Civil Code that treats ALL Indian MEN and WOMEN and TRANSGENDERS as equal, IRRESPECTIVE of religion, caste, region, etc. Could you, with all your concern, explain to callous and unconcerned old me, HOW this could possibly be threatening to anyone – anyone concerned with humananism and anyone not enclosed within the narrow confines of religious bigotry.
      You, dear Rose, appear to be one who is confined conveniently within such walls..what else could account for the ease with which you resort to name-calling and trolling when you have no logical point to counter me with?

  • rantman

    These are not criminal laws – if it helps, I think of them as a framework for arbitration or conflict resolution which you can opt in to. I suggest that you should not automatically ‘fall’ under any civil law unless you choose to, but also insist that you and everyone else should have that choice.

    There is no tattoo on your forehead saying you are Hindu or Muslim, nor any genetic marker – its just you professing. Its not even on your passport or Aadhar card. You could stop professing any time you want! So while its constitutionally not possible to impose any religious law on a person – unfortunately this has not stopped the legislature and judiciary from doing so, but that is an entirely different problem.

    If we get pedantic about what ‘secular’ means, we have to rip off parts of the Constitution. For example, even the supposedly secular parts like the Special Marriage Act are based on an assumption of heterosexual marriages. Why? What’s worse, in spite of calling itself a ‘contract’, its nowhere close to being gender neutral – roles and rights of the partners are coloured by various social mores. In summation, religious Personal law is not the most ridiculous part of the Constitution.

  • rantman

    > I am sorry to have to contradict you, again. Personal laws are not ‘opt ins’.
    I am not saying they are, I am saying they should be. If any one of the parties decides they want the common law option, it should take precedence. FTR, every one has the option of being married under the Special Marriage Act. If a marriage is contracted under this Act, then a subsequent divorce is too. Further, issues of inheritance must abide by the Indian Successions Act instead of any religious law. So you already have the option, even though you are not aware of it – it just doesn’t have the desired level of granularity. Likewise, its your choice to die intestate – you can make a legal will at the first opportunity and take matters out of the religious arena.

    > The constitution SPECIFIES who falls under which law.

    Yeah, the constitution is in conflict with itself – or to be more specific, some of its amendments are in conflict with its basic structure – or one might say parts of the constitution are not constitutionally enforceable, at least in theory.