However you believe the world came to be, through creation or evolution, one stark fact characterises it: not uniformity but diversity is the principle behind its coming to be.
Be it fauna or flora, not sameness but difference comprises the engrossing loveliness that suffuses all species.
While it is true that all existent creatures, including homo sapiens, must eat, proliferate and communicate, no two species are alike in the ways in which they accomplish these functions.
Lions do not eat as elephants do; and no elephant says to a lion, “Eat bamboo and grow as big as me.”
The miracle of the bamboo yielding the elephant, meanwhile, becomes a source of wonder, as any uniformity would not.
And so all the way down the living chain.
All birds chirp, but only humming birds understand the language of humming birds, and there is no pressure on them to speak any other language, certainly not Hindi.
Nor do any two species mate and procreate to the same pattern or the same time-table.
Nobody says to them, “Spawn only so many eggs, or so many offspring.”
Nor would the world we inhabit be the least charming were it not drenched in a plethora of colours and shades, or varieties of sunrise and sunset, or of cloud formation from one site to another.
The Chinar would have no distinction were all trees to be like the Chinar, nor the butterfly any beauty if it were as large as a bat.
Put simply, the order of nature, of which the right-wing often speaks a great deal, is not uniformity, but variety.
Indeed, one English poet was to caption the world as “God’s own variety”.
The same is true among human communities.
God may well have created “man” after his own image, but there is a contest among the first man’s progeny about who is nearest to god, the white, the black or the brown, man or woman.
That contest yields the profundities of archaeology, theology, philosophy and the formation of systems of worship.
The differentiated contexts of land, habitat, communication, nutrition, climate in which we are obliged to construct our cultures and the specificities of habit in all matters define the uniqueness of human communities and their discrete talents and foibles.
It has been observed recently that two conjoint families (read Hindus and Muslims) cannot have the privilege of differing civic laws.
Far from two, the fact is that those of us who have any experience of family know that no single large family ever applies the same rules/criteria in matters of etiquette, address, nutrition, dress or personal preferences in reading habits, skills, friendships, sleeping and waking regimens, tea, coffee, milk or any other potion uniformly to all members of the family.
Not to speak of those members who distinctly have special needs.
Nor do all members of any one family express equal delight in “received wisdoms” of the clan.
In “new India” especially, many openly disown the sanctity of inherited obligations, and are often encouraged, even by uniformity-seeking rulers of the day, to chalk out a new course and “mindset” in order to advance “development” and the “national interest”.
If, in political life, the call to uniformity is anathema to federalism, in personal/family life it is the invitation to a quarantined imprisonment of enforced sameness.
The history, let it be understood, of communities/nations suggests that the call to uniformity is always a “national socialist” project.
Hitler thought all authentic Germans should without exception be blonde and blue-eyed Aryans.
To this end, the Nazis performed gruesome experiments in artificial breeding (eugenics) and sought, in a “final solution”, to obliterate all Jews, Slavs and Romas.
Today, Germany take in a large number of immigrants.
If many in India resist the call for a Uniform Civil Code, it is precisely because they understand this to be a call to a mass conversion of all non-Hindu communities to Hindu personal practices.
Many agree that were the best rational and humane practices of all religious/cultural communities to be sifted and drawn up into a draft for debate and consideration, this would not be a bad thing.
But in the absence of any such exercise on behalf of the powers-that-be, they suspect with reason that the agenda of the uniformity call is to simply re-constitute Hindu personal laws as a Common Civil Code for all.
It is true that pretty much all communities in the republic, including the Hindu community despite the reforms thus far made within it, continue to practice personal laws which offend not just gender justice but a sheaf of what any objective scrutiny would show to be practices unacceptable to the best human reason, and violative of universal human rights.
But the remedy for that reality is not the uniformity bulldozer. It is for all communities to determine to evolve further from where they find themselves in their social and moral evolution into egalitarian laws that meet the test of rationality and equity among all members of any community.
For example, Muslim men in charge of administering Muslim personal laws must answer why, since Muslim women have the enlightened right to consent or not to a wedding arrangement in a nikah, they should not likewise have an equal right of divorce.
And let us not be fooled by the retort that they too have the right in the manner of khula, since permission to exercise that right must in the first place come from men in religious authority.
Patriarchy at its canniest, if you like.
Reforms thus must be made by the community itself, since neither do non-community members have the right to do this for them, nor, even if they did have such right, could absolute uniformity ever actually be achieved by any Nero in place.
When proponents of the UCC fail to meet rational argument, they advance the fact that Article 44 of the Directive Principles of State Policy recommends efforts be made to achieve a UCC.
That the Article in question makes no suggestions as to what procedure may be adopted or what shape this UCC may take is not mentioned.
Let us then look at another Article inscribed within the same Directive Principles of State Policy, five rungs above the one on a UCC.
Article 39 in three parts, makes the following stipulations:
- That all resources underneath the land belong to the people who have the first right to them: do they? Is the government of the day asking for this to be recognised?]
- That the state must try to ensure that concentration of wealth within a few hands is prevented from happening at all costs: is it not a fact that the last nine years have seen the grossest concentration of wealth within a few private hands?
- That inequalities of income be reduced to the barest minimum: never have such inequalities been more gruesomely large than under the Modi regime.
By any reckoning, the implementation of Article 39 should be the top priority of any government seeking to spread good cheer among the largest numbers of citizens, irrespective of caste, creed, language, ethnicity, region or community personal laws.
So why is there never any clamour for the implementation of Article 39?
What, we may ask, most affects the quality of life of the maximum number of Indians? That they marry, divorce, inherit, adopt etc. all in one and the same way, or that they enjoy the same capacities to participate in the economy as much as possible?
Even as news comes of a brute lumpen urinating on a tribal in Madhya Pradesh, the uniformity-seeking rulers have already suggested they will make an exception in the matter of tribal populations.
After all, in Madhya Pradesh where elections to the state assembly are due soon, tribals number some 30% of the population.
Any uniformity thrust on them could prove life-threatening; and thank god for that.
But then, why may other communities not be granted the same respite, and an opportunity to work on the reforms most certainly needed within their communities?
It is no secret that the political target of the proposed measure is the Muslim community.
It must be admitted that this community, as many others, does have work to do.
But, as in the case of the abolition of the obnoxious triple talaq provision, it were best that members of the community itself took up the task, showing the way to others who also need reforms.
Nobody is fooled as to the real intent of the clamour for a UCC.
It is to both divide Muslims and Hindus again, and to consolidate the latter’s vote for the all-important general elections of 2024.
Why, after all, did we hear nothing of this over the last five long years of the second Modi government?
Not surprisingly, this call for oneness is another canny ploy to divide rather than unite.
Badri Raina taught at Delhi University.