The exercise on Uniform Civil Code (UCC) must be responded to appropriately and dispassionately by the Muslim community. The questionnaire issued by the Law Commission Chairman, Justice B. S. Chauhan, on October 7 provides legal luminaries, thinkers, social activists and NGOs enough scope to put up their viewpoint on matters of civil laws, discuss threadbare the legal ramifications, and explain the position of the Sharia on issues that pertain to family integrity and gender justice. An opportunity for intellectual exercise should not be wasted through a boycott.
India’s vast diversity demands that the opinion-seeking exercise should be elaborate and extensive, something that looks impossible within a 45-day timeframe. At the first look, it appears that even a year will not be sufficient. The Law Commission will be better advised to extend the deadline to October 6, 2017. One would be justified in reading divisive motives of the Government if the plea for an extended timeframe is ignored. If the present Government at the Centre feels that it can mount a spectacle on the basis of some quick conclusion, it will be making its lack of sincerity apparent. Article 44 of Directive Principles of the State Policy has been there for many years. Nothing would be lost if it awaits legislation for a few more years. The BJP should give up its intentions, if any, of an electoral harvest in the country’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh on the basis of some quick-fix solution from a body i.e., Law Commission of India, which is supposed to play a non-partisan role in such matters.
A cursory look suggests that the questionnaire has been framed sensibly and seeks opinion on a wide variety of family laws, albeit only a few find specific mention in it. It does not betray any modicum of suspicion that it merely targets a particular community in order to tamper with or target its personal law. Just as opinion on triple talaq has been sought, there is similar mention of maîtri-karar (a practice in Gujarat’s Hindu society for men to enter into a second marriage); polyandry (surviving mainly among tribals); two-year waiting period for Christian women for grant of divorce; codification of personal laws et al. The questionnaire even goes to the extent of seeking opinion on minimum age for consent of marriage, although there is almost universal concurrence within the country that 18 for girls and 21 for boys is just all right as of now.
The question no. 2 has listed the subjects that fall under the realm of personal laws and seeks opinion if anyone of them needs to be excluded or there is a need for inclusion of any further subjects. The Muslim community could perhaps find under this head an opportunity to discuss its reservation regarding foster (Razayee siblings) relationships, its definition of incest etc. Even the question whether one favoured the codification for personal laws deserves appreciation. Muslims have sat over the issue for well over a century and action upon it should not be delayed. There is ample scope for saying ‘NO’ to the UCC in the questionnaire. Instead of boycotting, it will be in order that the community responds to it and oppose the UCC. The justification for such a ‘NO’ in a diverse society like India is colossal, although it is always beneficial and desirable for the entire nation to be governed by the same set of laws.
One needs to be reminded that we need to insist on basic values of Islam such as fairness, justice, equity, equality, compassion, charity, hospitality, generosity, truthfulness, piety, accountability, transparency, etc rather than citing sanctity of the Muslim Personal Law. Laws should be based on values rather than sanctity or sacredness or by citing un-impeachability of the source. Only a threadbare discussion on rationality of the law would enable the community to reach a consensual response to the Law Commission’s questionnaire. Ignoring, boycotting or being dismissive about it are not the options currently. By doing this, the community would be skipping an opportunity to explain its standpoint on issues that appear contentious and unjust to so many sections of the people and have remained controversial in the public discourse.