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RSS ideologue Seshadri Chari says the time is ripe for a Uniform Civil Code, and that it would be a definitive step towards gender justice. Excerpts from an interview with Preetha Nair:
After the scrapping of Article 370, the RSS has been talking about Uniform Civil Code?
The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) was part of the BJP manifesto and had been of the Jan Sangh’s manifesto too. The RSS has also been claiming it. In fact, the UCC and abrogation of Article 370 have been the longest-standing demands of the Jan Sangh right from its formation. The only addition in the BJP manifesto is Ram Janmabhoomi.
Do you think the BJP government will enact the UCC by the next Parliament session?
I was told that the law commission has already been asked to work on the different aspects of the UCC. The new one will carry forward whatever the earlier commission has done.
But the last law commission, in its report, said the UCC is neither desirable nor necessary at this point of time.
The law commission and the political class were always concerned about the UCC. There are civil society organisations on both sides. There are divergent views on adopting the UCC, like in the case of scrapping Article 370.
Are we ready for it?
It is mandated by the Constitution. If we are not ready for it after 70 years, how much more are we going to wait? Either you take a decision saying we will expunge it from the directive principles, which is impossible, or let Parliament direct the government to do it.
Since 1998, the BJP has been championing the UCC cause. Is there a blueprint available?
There are a number of drafts already available as to what the UCC should look like. There is a view that marriage, divorce, birth, death and property—at least these five elements of civil society engagements and interactions—should be brought under the UCC. Every birth and death should be recorded. Every marriage should have a common procedure and it should be registered. And every divorce should have a common procedure, which has been partly done by banning triple talaq. Even an annulment of Muslim marriage or divorce should go through the same procedure.
Marriage customs vary across the country. How will you unify them?
Every community can solemnise the marriage in their own way. There must be a registrar of marriage, with whom they can register it. Just like birth, marriages should be registered. The government now wants to bring all this into a statutory framework.
There is a fear that the BJP is trying to impose a Hindu code on everyone by bringing in the Uniform Civil Code.
How is it a Hindu code? In the Muslim community, a woman is not allowed to get herself photographed. Muslim personal law forbids a woman from posing for a photograph. The UCC will only help people break taboos.
Why do we need a UCC and why can’t these discussions go beyond the Muslim-Hindu binary?
Is Article 370 a Hindu-Muslim issue? It’s not. Similarly, the UCC is not a Muslim issue. The Constitution makers also wanted this. We have a uniform criminal procedure code in place. According to Sharia laws, if a person is caught for theft, his hands should be cut. We say the law should take its course. When we have a uniform criminal law, why cannot we have a uniform civil law? Under the UCC, one person can marry only one woman at a time. If he wants to marry another woman, he has to divorce the first wife irrespective of his religion. This will cause a social revolution and bring gender justice.
Ambedkar said adoption of the UCC should be voluntary.
We should not force it. But it’s enshrined in the Constitution.
Shouldn’t there be a discussion involving all the stakeholders?
There have been discussions with many people like me taking part. The government has a draft. Whoever wants to see the draft can access it from the law commission. There are a hundred drafts of the UCC. It’s going to be based on the last law commission report. The government bill has to come out of the suggestions in the report.
Considering the diverse customs and religious practices in the country, how is the government going to unify them?
The Hindu Code Bill was done in the 1950s. Don’t you think Hindus are a diverse community? They don’t have one god or one custom. All these things were brought under four codes. There were protests in the Hindu community. But then they came around.
Don’t you think the Hindu community desperately needed reforms at that time?
When Sati was proscribed by law, the people accepted it. If we can accept the common criminal code, why can’t we have a common civil code as well?
Across the board, personal laws have many discriminatory practices. The law commission also says communities have to reform themselves.
Who will reform the personal laws? Did the Muslims reform the triple talaq in the past 70 years? Then it went to the Supreme Court. When it was legally banned, reforms started happening. I would personally welcome it if a community is able to reform itself. Many reforms have taken place in Hindu personal laws.
Even after codification of Hindu laws, there are unjust practices among Hindus.
If a Hindu is polygamous, then he should be punished for it. It’s legally punished under the Hindu laws. The reform process was consistent in the Hindu community. We are not seeing such a process in the Muslim community. If they don’t reform, there is a legal punishment. Legal ban on polygamy among the Muslim community will help in social reform.
Will the Hindu Undivided Family go after the UCC is introduced?
The Hindu Undivided Family is a financial entity accepted by the Constitution. It has a certain basis to it. We have to see whether the basis still exists or not. If it’s being misused, remove the clauses. The HUF Act is a separate issue as far as rules and regulations are concerned. All the HUF rules and regulations are codified and brought under a broad heading.
Will the Hindu Succession Act be scrapped in the event of a uniform succession act?
If people think the new act is in their best interest, then the Hindu Succession Act should go. Anything that’s ultra vires to the new law should go. The problem is that the antagonists want all Hindu laws to go, but they don’t let anyone touch the Muslim laws.