Uniform civil code

Taslima Nasrin, made a surprise appearance  on Jan 24th at an unscheduled event on the last day of the festival and reiterated her stands against all forms of fanaticism, whether perpetrated by Muslim or Hindu extremists, and also spoke about her love for India, her support for a uniform civil code has again made  the issue volatile debatable and her continued fight for women’s rights. This staunch belief in women’s rights is what propels her to speak up for a uniform civil code in India. Author Lashes Out At Mamata Banerjee For Paying Lip Service To Secularism Till Monday, the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) was a largely tame affair. And then exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin made an impromptu appearance on the last day , immediately drawing protesting Muslim groups outside the venue. Adding fuel to fire, the author pledged her firm support for the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and underscored its importance in ensuring gender equality. She questioned the secularism of Indian state which was sheltering fanatics who issued fatwas and set a prize for her head.

Speaking for equal rights, the author urged the Islamic society to be tolerant and allow progress. Without criticism, it will be impossible to bring democracy to Islamic countries, she said. On freedom of speech, Nasrin emphasized that democracy would have no value without free speech. She called for getting rid of all outdated archaic laws that curb freedom of speech.“All British laws used against freedom of expression should be abolished. Without freedom of expression, democracy will not have meaning,“ Nasrin added.

This session of the `cont roversial' writer was not scheduled at the JLF. Many in the audience were surprised to see Nasrin on the dais. She argued that fundamentalism cannot be eradicated by killing people or punishing people but only through secular education.Rejecting the idea of nationalism, Nasrin maintained her belief in freedom and one world. “I don't believe in nationalism. I believe in humanism, rationalism, rights, freedom and one passport and one world,“ added Nasrin.

MEANING

Uniform civil code is the proposal to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in India with a common set governing every citizen. These laws are distinguished from public law and cover marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance.

HISTORY

India under the East India Company (1757-1858)

The English tried to reform local social and religious customs in the Indian territories under its command. Lord William Bentinck, the Governor-General of India, tried to suppress sati, the prescribed death of a widow on her husband's funeral pyre, and passed the Bengal Sati Regulation, 1829. This was later extended outside Bengal to all English territories in India.

British India (1858–1947)

The debate for a uniform civil code dates back to the colonial period in India. The Lex Loci Report of October 1840 emphasized the importance and necessity of uniformity in codification of Indian law, relating to crimes, evidences and contract but it recommended that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims should be kept outside such codification [1]According to their understanding of religious divisions in India, the British separated this sphere which would be governed by religious scriptures and customs of the various communities (Hindus, Muslims, Christians and later Parsis). These laws were applied by the local courts or panchayats when dealing with regular cases involving civil disputes between people of the same religion; the State would only intervene in exceptional cases. Thus, the British let the Indian public have the benefit of self-government in their own domestic matters with the Queen's 1859 Proclamation promising absolute non-interference in religious matters. The personal laws involved inheritance, succession, marriage and religious ceremonies. The public sphere was governed by the British and Anglo-Indian law in terms of crime, land relations, laws of contract and evidence—all this applied equally to every citizen irrespective of religion. Throughout the country, there was a variation in preference for scriptural or customary laws because in many Hindu and Muslim communities, these were sometimes at conflict; such instances were present in communities like the Jats and the Dravidians. The Shudras, for instance, allowed widow remarriage—completely contrary to the scriptural Hindu law.[5] The Hindu laws got preference because of their relative ease in implementation, preference for such a Brahminical system by both British and Indian judges and their fear of opposition from the high caste Hindus. The difficulty in investigating each specific practice of any community, case-by-case, made customary laws harder to implement. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, favouring local opinion, the recognition of individual customs and traditions increased. The Muslim Personal law or Sharia law, was not strictly enforced as compared to the Hindu law. It had no uniformity in its application at lower courts and was severely restricted because of bureaucratic procedures. This led to the customary law, which was often more discriminatory against women, to be applied over it. Women, mainly in northern and western India, often were restrained from property inheritance and dowry settlements, both of which the Sharia provides Due to pressure from the Muslim elite, the Shariat law of 1937 was passed which stipulated that all Indian Muslims would be governed by Islamic laws on marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption, succession and inheritance.

Legislative reforms

The Hindu law discriminated against women by depriving them of inheritance, remarriage and divorce. Their condition, especially that of Hindu widows and daughters, was poor due to this and other prevalent customs The British and social reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar were instrumental in outlawing such customs by getting reforms passed through legislative processes. Since the British feared opposition from orthodox community leaders, only the Indian Succession Act 1865, which was also one of the first laws to ensure women's economic security, attempted to shift the personal laws to the realm of civil. The Indian Marriage Act 1864 had procedures and reforms solely for Christian marriages. There were law reforms passed which were beneficial to women like the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act of 1856, Married Women's Property Act of 1923 and the Hindu Inheritance (Removal of Disabilities) Act, 1928, which in a significant move, permitted a Hindu woman's right to property.[7]

The call for equal rights for women was only at its initial stages in India at that time and the reluctance of the British government further deterred the passing of such reforms. The All India Women's Conference (AIWC) expressed its disappointment with the male-dominated legislature and Lakshmi Menon said in an AIWC conference in 1933, "If we are to seek divorce in court, we are to state that we are not Hindus, and are not guided by Hindu law. The members in the Legislative assembly who are men will not help us in bringing any drastic changes which will be of benefit to us." The women's organisations demanded a uniform civil code to replace the existing personal laws, basing it on the Karachi Congress resolution which guaranteed gender-equality

The passing of the Hindu Women's right to Property Act of 1937, also known as the Deshmukh bill, led to the formation of the B. N. Rau committee, which was set up to determine the necessity of common Hindu laws. The committee concluded that it was time of a uniform civil code, which would give equal rights to women keeping with the modern trends of society but their focus was primarily on reforming the Hindu law in accordance with the scriptures. The [2]committee reviewed the 1937 Act and recommended a civil code of marriage and succession; it was set up again in 1944 and send its report to the Indian Parliament in 1947. The Special Marriage Act, which gave the Indian citizens an option of a civil marriage, was first enacted in 1872. It had a limited application because it required those involved to renounce their religion and was applicable only to Hindus. The later Special Marriage (Amendment) Act, 1923 permitted Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains to marry either under their personal law or under the act without renouncing their religion as well as retaining their succession rights.

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JasRaj Rajawat 
on 27 February 2017
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