The idea of being equal in India is not a particularly loved one. In the least, one would have to say that being equal to someone in India would be seen as detrimental to the overall health of the administration process. Here, one has to convince another person that they’re inferior in rank, quality and birth than them and thus are required by duty to serve them. This takes many forms, including religious, wherein feeble words which are without protection can be twisted to mean anything that serves the purposes of the reader. Indeed, in India even words are not their own masters. This is where the Uniform Civil Code comes in. The UCC is akin to a plate of jalebis, in that everyone wants it, but no one quite knows what's in it and whether they should have it or not. The UCC is also akin to DRDO in that nobody knows anything about it and there’s no real progress being made here.
The obsession with finding out about this enigmatic boogeyman of the Indian political and legal scene, started for me with an article by the revered history scholar (if you study in universities that start with J) and equally reviled history desecrator (if you study in cowbelt) Ramachandra Guha, who wrote about the sorry state of the Indian liberals who oppose a UCC. Try to unpack this sentence. The renowned liberal scholar Ramachandra Guha is attacking liberals in India for not believing in the quintessential liberal ideal of a civil code of laws and regulations that apply to all citizens equally.
Before I felt the urge to immediately leave this country and never look back because of this absurdity that is becoming a daily occurrence, I decided to not let my prejudices overtake me and do a little research. How is it that in a country that in today’s time fears the ‘intellectual’ and uses the term ‘secular’ as an insult, the Uniform civil code has become a rallying cry for the majority of the middle class, and is being opposed by an extremist religious group allied with...liberals?
The facts start from the 1950s, when Jawaharlal Nehru and other ‘lutyens’ officials (another offensive word) decided that a reformation of the religious laws was in order, and thus decided to first work on the Hindu Code Bills that would abolish such practices as polygamy and those that do not allow the transfer of property to women as heirs after the deaths of their parents, among others. Some of the arguments given for why this was done only for the Hindus and not other religions is that the movement for civil codes came from a strong movement within the Radical Hindu community. However, it must also be noted that there was some opposition from Hindus too, who opposed the abolition of polygamy. The UCC is also there in the Directive Principles of State Policy, a bunch of things that the authors of our constitution very sweetly put into the constitution to whisper to our future governments that “heyyyyyy how about you do this also it’ll be nice for people no”, but which the aforementioned future governments currently use as the napkins in which you steal extra saunf from the restaurant.
An important thing to note here is that although we call this the Uniform Civil Code, the code almost certainly refers purely to the concept of ‘personal laws’, an idea gifted to us by the British, who often had the gall to come to our lands, read our scriptures and first tell us that the scriptures were wrong, and then tell us that their interpretation was the correct one. This enabled them to nicely enslave us and give rise to a society that eats and drinks fair and lovely for lunch and dinner and trashes jewellery stores for airing an advertisement about religious harmony. The point has been made, we do not like harmony.
Thus, although there was some sort of an effort to codify Hindu laws, personal laws of many religions still remain the presumptive laws in the eyes of the Indian judicial system. These include the Hindu Marriage Act, and most contentiously, the Sharia Law. The majoritarian populace in this country now feels that the burden of lifting us up from the depths of personal laws is upon them and thus they promise to bring about a revolution (see what I did there) and introduce the Uniform Civil Code. The ruling majoritarian government has said as much in all their manifestos. It has been almost 10 years but the majoritarian government has not in fact brought about the revolution. The liberal-leftist-lutyens lobby in all their innocent righteousness make their voices hoarse telling us that the Uniform Civil Code is a myth and that true reform has to be brought about from within the personal laws by the communities themselves, and the extremist lobby loves this time wasting tactic. The majoritarian government has been one of the most hard working governments we have ever had, in that they have worked very hard to make us believe truly with all our hearts that the clear suicide of an actor warrants a murder inquiry by the top investigation agency of our country and not on other important matters, such as the misappropriation of funds to news channels. For one whole year our national discourse and debate has been about which celebrity takes which drug, and although I hoped that Salman Khan doing LSD would be the top problem on my priority list, it sadly is not.
From this lengthy detour in the guise of a background look in which I may have left you with more confused than you were before you started reading, my point is to show you that although a Uniform Civil Code is a very desirable outcome for any well-functioning socialist, secular democracy such as ours, there is absolutely no reason to believe that anyone in the field of politics, media or bureaucracy is going to do something about it. The political establishment (from any side) has never proposed even a basic outline of what this fantasy UCC will even have, and thus we find ourselves in the ridiculous proposition of fighting for something without even having a draft of it prepared. Corporate offices make more drafts of their ppts for a dinner plan than India has made draft Uniform Civil Codes. This process of elimination shows that the politicians do not want a Uniform Civil Code; the Media does not care about a UCC; the corporates, bureaucracy, academia and other influential groups do not consider it upon themselves or their job to worry about the relevancy of the Uniform Civil Code. This is why I want to propose that the revolutionary Uniform Civil Code in our country has its utmost relevance in idea, purpose and desire to enact in a group that is the most vocal about its integrity: the Feminist Movement.
Yes, I have said the F word but this is a website where you should have expected this. From all the background that I have provided to you in this subject, you have by now realised that most of the personal laws of the various religions in this country are quite indifferent to the woman as a living being. Although it is impossible to truly understand the breadth of injustice that is faced by women under the patriarchal structure in India, it is relevant to say that they repeatedly deny her her material rights, her rights to life and in general her rights to sanity, because these laws are purposefully made as if to intern a patient into a 1950s-era mental hospital manned by Nurse Ratched (petition to call all belief systems ratched). The one thing that any argument against the Uniform Civil Code invisibly banks on is the aspect of control, wherein the loss of control over the lives of women will somehow bring immense personal, societal, familial and marital loss to the men who will be forced to live under laws that would apply to all citizens of the country. It is also not to discount the fact that feminism is a movement that does not only include women, although it is relevant to note that women are the most obvious beneficiaries from the enactment of a UCC, and these include women from rural areas and tier-III and tier-II cities. It can be argued that this assumed group needs this feminism the most because their lives are inevitably interlinked with religious practices and codes of ethics, which dictate not only their lifestyles but also their freedom.
Therefore, it is but natural that the call for a Uniform Civil Code should not be a political call, as if the ruling majority is under any threat from a minority that has never been made to feel a part of this country and thus justly has its own frustrations, and neither is it a bureaucratic or legal call, because god forbid the IAS and lawyers do not want another thing disturbing their perpetual lunch break. No, this must, and has to be, a social call for the improvement of the lives of women throughout India, who are deprived of the opportunity to create a better life for themselves, much less live one, because of these archaic laws that should have been gone from our collective consciousness decades ago.
It is necessary here to also make a distinction as to what we call a political establishment and what we call a social movement. Should the Feminist movement dabble in such things as politics, indeed trying to enact policy changes like the UCC? One would argue that feminism as a movement has always been against integration, and instead are much more intersectional in nature. This goes against the idea of the UCC as an integrationist policy, which would enable religious groups to give up their individual personal laws and instead make subjects like marriage nothing more than legal actions, with no social consequences to them. It also takes away from the religious groups some parts of their identity as well, which makes it harder to justify the introduction of a policy which directly attacks an integral part of the religions.
It is often seen that in academic discourse, the idea of a Uniform Civil Code is discussed with the idea of gender justice, and not the feminist movement as such. As stated before, feminism ideologically is a more intersectional movement in nature, and thus goes against the idea of the UCC. However, we have seen earlier in India how movements can change their ideals to make a better impact, such as how the Communist movement became a democratic party, a fully secular and indeed in some ways even an organisation that partakes in caste politics. It is not unforeseeable for Feminism, especially as an intrinsically Indian movement, may change its ideals to better support the purpose of establishing equality in policy, as well as a roadmap as a societal movement first, and then a legal result later.
Women in this country have had to fight their way through so much only to see that in the year 2020, the enormous question of removing religious practices that masquerade as the laws that should govern your lifestyle and quality of life are being debated solely by men, whose top agenda is not the further liberation of women from the mind-numbingly suffocative patriarchy that unnecessarily thrives in this country, but the acquisition of more and more votes so that they can stay in power, commit ridiculous types of corruption, and then downplay their own violence towards women.
The debate about the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code in this country is one that has raged from its inception and has yet to find a clear grounds for existence, much less enactment, and thus deserves much more than just peripheral discussions that do not further the narrative discourse in any way other than creating excuses for the patriarchy to justify its existence. I do not claim to hold any solutions today, but I hope I can make you wonder. We must wonder why no group in India wants to take responsibility for a law as important as the Uniform Civil Code, and we must try to find answers.
-Written by: Trayambak Chakravarty