By Rakesh Sinha
The Supreme Court’s verdict on triple talaq naturally entails further discussion on the necessity of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for the country. This is not far-fetched since, in a liberal, democratic and secular society, gender justice based on a sense of equality can only be ensured by a common civil code. The Supreme Court ruling on triple talaq as unconstitutional is a landmark, not only for victims of the medieval practice, but also because this is the first time that the Indian state has taken a radical stand on the issue.
During the colonial period, though the British administration stood for reforms in the Hindu society, they protected medieval laws and customs of the Muslim society. Modern institutions have been used to defend obscurantism and the medievalism of Muslim society for the last hundred years and more. There is an interesting instance from colonial India when Lord Curzon was India’s Viceroy.
While public instructor (education) of NWFP and other provinces of India wanted Muslims to be given modern (English) education, the senior British officials at the centre blocked the move, stating that this would lead to anti-British sentiment among the Muslim masses and they (the British administration) were badly threatened by the activities and expansion of Wahabis on Indian soil. The Shariat Act was formulated in 1937 which negatively impacted many Muslim sects which were practicing local customs for generations
In 1950s, during a discussion on the Hindu Code Bill in the Lok Sabha, J B Kripalani, a socialist and former President of the Indian National Congress, accused the Nehru government of being communal since it was proposing modernization of a community and not extending the benefits to Muslims. Nehru was guided by Curzon’s philosophy to justify obscurantism and gender inequality to appease Muslims. Both of them failed to understand that the state does not belong to a community and the moral and legal duty of agencies and institutions of the state is to increasingly infuse scientific temperament and modernity.
There is an interesting discourse on UCC in independent India. It is not that there have not been forces of change among the Muslim masses, but they were discouraged by overwhelmingly pseudo-secular political parties and intellectuals. They invented an interesting logic and reason to snub and defeat the demand for UCC as an RSS-BJP (previously BJS) ploy to impose Hindu laws and customs on Muslims. AAA Faizi, Moin Shakir, Humayun Kabir, M H Begh were top leaders of the community who were rational but microscopic voices for progress, change and modernity. They did not become even reference points for the secularist intelligentsia. Faizee, Shakir and Kabir were comrades, yet their voices became synonymous with what they repeatedly accused: the “Hindu Fascism of RSS”.
It is interesting to unravel what has been the RSS approach to UCC. Right from Golwalkar to Mohan Bhagwat, the RSS has held the consistent view that community reform must proceed and the voice from within for reforms is the best way to achieve one law, one nation. Bhagwat a few years ago aptly stated, “There can’t be many parameters to evaluate justice for women and enlightened Muslims should come forward to change status quoism.” Those who opposed Uniform Civil Code unhesitatingly misguided the community by creating RSS-phobia – that UCC for RSS meant majoritarianism. They went to the extent of saying Hindu rituals would be imposed in Muslim marriages (nikaah). Can there be a bigger travesty than such misleading logic? UCC does not address micro-issues like rituals, local and community traditions, but only meta issues like marriage, its dissolution (separation), succession and the right to property for women. It’s all about gender equality and gender justice. On August 23, 1972, Golwalkar in an interview to K R Malkani, the editor of the pro-RSS daily “The Motherland” (it ceased to appear after the Emergency), categorically said that the RSS was not guided by the reasons propagated by its adversaries – “the right to marry four wives causing a disproportionate increase in Muslim population. I am afraid this is a negative approach” he said “If our objections to Muslim practices are on humanitarian grounds, then that becomes a valid objection. A reformist’s attitude in this matter is alright. But a mechanical leveler’s attitude would not be correct. Let the Muslims evolve their old laws. I would be happy if they will arrive at the conclusion that polygamy is not good for them; but I will not like to force my views on them.”
This evoked a big debate and one of the then young Muslim minds Salman Khurshid (who was related to the President of India, Zakir Hussain) wrote a letter to the editor of Motherland (August 24, 1972) praising Golwalkar. He wrote, “Frankly, I bow before Guru Golwalkar for the courage he has shown in expressing his views in the manner he has done. I find that eminent person like Guru Golwalkar has now come out with views which are more or less on similar lines as those of the late Dr. Zakir Hussain.”
Bhagwat more than once has stated that democratic discourse and dialogues should lead to consensus for law. The ultimate objective of the RSS is not UCC, but to achieve cultural consolidation. Neither Owaisi nor any pseudo-secularist intellectual can understand either Golwalkar or Bhagwat because they consider modernity and rationality would end their conventional narrative against the RSS. It’s becoming true that Muslim women share the dias, debate and ideas with RSS and don’t find their religion is endangered. They openly solicited the support of the RSS and the combination to the great triple talaq victory for India’s positive secularism over old Nehruvian secularism.
The RSS has a consistent position on Muslim question which was echoed by Golwalkar in the same interview, “Even the secularists treat the Muslims as a thing apart. Of course their method is to flatter them for their bloc votes. Others also look upon them as a thing apart, but they would like to flatten out the Muslims by removing their separate identity. Basically there is no difference between flatters and flatteners. They both look upon the Muslims as separate and incompatible.” The RSS neither flatters not wants to flatten them, but as Bhagwat also said recently while delineating the concept of Bharat Mata, contextualizing religions in terms of our culture and civilization and scientific temperament is imperative. Golwakar summed up his interview saying “I must say politicians are responsible for spoiling the Muslims.”
It has been a consistent discourse by the RSS which has impacted the masses and now a larger section of the community is no longer a victim of RSS-phobia. The time is ripe for substantive discourse on the formulation of Uniform Civil Code.
(Prof Rakesh Sinha is associate professor, Delhi University and honorary director, India Policy Foundation.)