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l August 2003 l

The Kashmir Bachao Andolan Publication

l Vol 2, No 4 l


Uniformity or Gender Justice

Ram Puniyani

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.

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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 inside.


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.

Copyright 2002-2003 Shyam Lal Watt Foundation

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