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Uniformity or Gender Justice

By Ram Puniyani

05 August, 2003

Chief Justice Khare's observation (July 23rd, 2003)
about the need to work for Uniform civil code has
rekindled the debate, which has been raging from last
decade or so. Different groups have responded to it in
a different fashion, with Muslim League opposing it
right away and BJP jubilantly welcoming it. These are
the two opposite poles of the reaction to the
observation of the Chief Justice. It is likely to
bring forth the debate about this vexed issue.
Different social groups have seen the demand for
Uniform code in different perspectives. One of the
arguments is that such a code will strengthen the
National unity.

As such the issue of Uniform civil code was raised in
the beginning by the women's movement in its quest for
gender justice. During Shah Bano case the immaturity
and mistakes of Rajiv Gandhi regime sowed the seeds of
dissatisfaction to this judgment reversal by the act
of parliament. As the orthodox section of Muslim
leadership banked on the preservation of male
domination in the name of Islam, the RSS and its
progeny intensified the campaign for Uniform code. It
came in as a convenient handle to beat the Muslim
community with. It was asserted by BJP leadership that
a uniform code will draw from different prevalent
codes and that's what will bring in a 'model' code.
Realizing that a mere uniformity cannot bring in
justice the women's movement began to call for gender
just code and that's where it stands today. There is a
crucial difference in these two simple concepts. A
uniform code need not be gender just while a gender
just code can be uniform for the whole Nation. As such
the civil code relates more to the laws of inheritance
of property, divorce and custody of children. And in
these matters most of the prevalent codes are biased
in favor of men without any shadow of doubt.

Going back early to the days of Nehru-Ambedkar, one
recalls that Nehru had requested Dr. Ambedkar to begin
the process of drafting civil codes, beginning with
Hindu code. Hindu being the majority it was more
pertinent to begin with that. In due course
Ambedkar-Nehru duo realized that the serious
opposition to this within the ruling party itself will
not permit the passage of the bill and the justice
cannot be delivered to women so easily. Meanwhile the
women's movement started picking up and it in due
course started articulating for equality before law
and need for legal provisions in that direction. While
even the process for Hindus is not complete the women
from Minority community started suffering from other
disadvantages. The regular recurrence of anti-minority
violence intimidated the minorities, minority women in
particular. Till 91-92 the contradictory trends of
progress and regression of minority reforms was fairly
in balance. Post babri the regressive trends became
stronger and the ghettoisation of Muslim community
started setting in. The Muslim community as whole and
Muslim women in particular became subject to a
physical-psychological intimidation. Every round of
violence left a scar on the minority psyche. The
Mumbai riots were a severe blow to internal reforms
within the community. The Gujarat carnage has exceeded
all the imaginable barbarities against women and the
same battered women had to take shelters in the
mosques. What will be the result of this phenomenon,
'mosque as the only savior for Muslim women'? To say
that it will further strengthen the hold of Mullahs is
to state the obvious. The movement of Muslim women for
justice has been on in a small but significant way.
This gets a severe jolt every time a bout of Anti
Muslim violence breaks out. The Muslim women are
double victims. On one hand they have to face the
violence of Hindutva from outside and on the other
they are victims of the intimidation of Mullahs from

To begin with no civil codes cannot be imposed from
outside. We require a feeling of security to ensure
that reform process begins. In the current scenario
the Hindutva movement is repressive not only to the
Muslim minorities but it also it targets at the gender
equality. It asserts that notion of Women's liberation
is licentious, synonym of loose morals. It moans about
the glorious position of Indian women in the past
where women were worshipped. And so we do not need any
notions of "Western" ideas of gender equality as
Hindus worshipped 'their' women. The Hindutva women's
organizations, which are subordinate to male RSS,
propagate an opposition to the ideas of struggling for
equality and justice. The parallel cultural expression
is being percolated through the current Hindi serials
like Saas bhi Khabhi Bahu thi and its clones on
different channels, which merely propagate the
patriarchal notions in different guises. Also with the
ascendance of Hindu Right movement all the other Human
rights movements are facing a setback.

Today it is an impossibility to take up the issue of
Gender just code right away. The doctored minds are
talking of the great traditions, unmindful of the fact
that what is being paraded as the great tradition is
nothing but the values enshrined in the Manusmirit in
more refined form.

We do need Uniformity, but of course it has to be
based on justice. This justice is the biggest victim
at the hands of the Religion based nationalism. We
need to restore the democratic culture and spirit in
all aspects of social life as the prerequisite for
justice. No threatened and insecure community can go
in for reforms. It is commendable that even in the
shadow of terror of this atmosphere, created by
Togadia's and Modi's, a large section of Muslim
community and leadership are talking of progress and
reforms. The Shahi Imams are being marginalized. This
is a positive trend in the Nation. While BJP will try
its best to use this handle of Uniform code, it is
imperative that democratic movement works for a riot
free India, a harmonious atmosphere where communities
feel secure and thereby strive for progress and
justice. More than Muslims, the major opposition to
tie gender just code will come from the same Hindutva
forces that today are demanding for Uniform code. Once
the terrain is shifted to Justice as the first
principle and uniformity as an accompaniment Hidutva
will oppose it tooth and nail as its very foundation
is on the concept of patriarchy and male domination.
It's a clone of Talibanism or Islamism as being
practiced by the Pakistani ruling junta where Mullahs
hold the sway.

There is an urgent need to shift the debate to issues
of security and justice which are the core issues, the
basic foundation on which Uniformity can be built and
brought in for all the communities