Controversy Surrounds Uttarakhand Uniform Civil Code:  Targeting Muslim Identity

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Controversy Surrounds Uttarakhand Uniform Civil Code: Targeting Muslim Identity

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NEW DELHI: In passing the Uniform Civil Code Bill, the BJP-ruled state of Uttarakhand became the first in the country to indiscreetly target Muslim identity since the so-called UCC legislation exempts scheduled tribe groups from its provisions. The bill passed amidst the campaign for ethnic cleansing, which has gathered ominous momentum since Muslims constitute around 14% of the state’s population. The fascist Hindutva forces want to throw out all Muslims from the state, which is tacitly supported by the state government. And the UCC seems to be part of that agenda, which has been the favorite pastime of the ruling BJP for decades.

However, the hill state’s elected political leadership is mostly to blame for the heightened anti-Muslim sentiments in the region and passing the UCC. Of his 45 years of age, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has dedicatedly worked for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for 33 of those years. He was a political lightweight in 2021, having been appointed chief minister out of the blue. Even after losing his assembly seat in the state elections of 2022, he was re-elected as chief minister, demonstrating the Sangh’s continued prominence.

Later, he was chosen to fill the seat left empty by a politician from the BJP. He consistently pushes all the buttons that create the poisonous stereotype of the Muslim in Uttarakhand as an enemy, a jihadi, and an outsider.

Political observers see the enactment of the UCC by the Dhami government in this context. It is to be noted that after much ado about the UCC, the union government, led by the BJP, put this issue on the back burner. Naturally, Muslim organizations took exception to the Uttarakhand government’s action, calling it disrespectful to the country’s motto of unity in diversity.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, a representative body of schools of thought, said the UCC Bill passed in the Uttarakhand Assembly was inappropriate, unnecessary, and against the diversity that has been rushed to gain political advantage. It is a mere eyewash and nothing more than political propaganda.

Speaking with Islamic Voice, Board spokesperson Dr. S. Q. R. Ilyas said it is not UCC but to target only Muslim identity. He questioned why the act exempted tribal groups from its ambit.

According to him, “this legislation, in a hurried manner, deals only with three aspects: firstly, the sphere of marriage and divorce in a cursory manner; thereafter, it deals with succession, albeit in extenso; and lastly, strangely, it conceives a new legal regime for live-in relationships, which undoubtedly will impinge on the moral values of all the religions. While Scheduled Tribes are already excluded from this law, for all other communities, provisions are included to provide for their customs and usages.”

For example, while the law provides degrees of prohibited relationships in which marriages cannot be solemnized, it also provides that such a rule is not applicable if the customs and usages of the parties permit otherwise. The question that begs for an answer is, Where is the uniformity then?

One controversial issue brought up by Dr. Ilyas is the equalization of inheritance rights between the sexes, which goes against the norms of Islamic law as defined by the holy Quran.

He underlined that Islamic law requires fair allocation according to family members’ financial responsibilities, with women receiving different portions according to their responsibilities.

Banning second marriages in the proposed law is also only for publicity purposes. Because the data provided by the government itself shows that its ratio is also falling rapidly. A second marriage is not done for fun but because of social necessity.

The Scheduled Tribes have already been excluded from the Act; all other caste communities have been exempted from their customs. For example, when this proposed law provides a list of prohibited relationships in which marriages cannot be performed, it also provides the facility that if the customs of the parties allow otherwise, this rule will not apply. When a problem calls for an answer, then where is the uniformity?

He also underlined that issues such as marriage, divorce, succession, etc. are included in the concurrent list of the Constitution. As per Article 245 of the Constitution, it is the Parliament that has the law-making power on these subjects. Only Parliament has exclusive power to make such legislation. The state’s power is subject to the exclusive power of the parliament.

As per the Muslim Personal Laws (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, in any proceedings relating to marriage, divorce, or succession, Muslims shall be governed by the same. Section 3 of the said Act provides a mechanism as well.

Therefore, all that this law is doing is giving rise to multiple proceedings, which will further choke the dockets of our overburdened courts, he added. While the bill seeks to give itself an overriding effect by envisaging that it will be applicable across states outside of the pre-existing legislation on the subject, Another question that emerges and begs for an answer is as to how state legislation can override or repeal a central legislation without even naming it.

The legal issues with the code will definitely be dealt with by the courts in due time, as some of the provisions appear to be excessive and unconstitutional. It is sad that a law and a legislative assembly are being used to fool the electorate into thinking that some sort of uniform civil code is enacted when in truth it is far from it. The law will lead to a multiplicity of proceedings and confusion.

According to the Muslim Personal Law (Sharia) Application Act 1937, matters relating to marriage, divorce, and inheritance will be governed by the same law. Section 3 of the Act also provides for their procedure. But the said Uttarakhand law is giving rise to multiple proceedings simultaneously, which is feared to further burden our already overburdened courts. Here another question arises as to how a state law can supersede or abrogate a central law, and that too without naming it. We are sure that some of the legal contradictions will be resolved by the courts in due course, as some of the clauses are transgressive and unconstitutional. It is a sad fact that, in the name of the Uniform Civil Code, a legislative assembly is trying to deceive the voters of the country that it has really done a great job, although it has not. This proposed law will only lead to a multiplicity of actions and mere confusion.

It is also important to clarify here that last July the country’s minorities, Dalits and Adivasis, held a joint press conference and rejected the Uniform Civil Code by saying that it was given by the Constitution of India. It is against fundamental rights and against religious and cultural diversity. If the Scheduled Tribes have been exempted from the proposed Tarakhand Act, then how can it be declared a uniform civil code when the state has a significant population of tribals and many exemptions have been given to the majority section, which makes it a candidate? Dr Ilyas .

Dr. Ilyas said with emphasis that the real target of the law is only Muslims. There is a danger that Uttarakhand’s UCC law is likely to be the template for similar efforts by a clutch of other BJP-ruled states.