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Uniform Civil Code or the Struggle for Our Commons

Uniform Civil Code or the Struggle for Our Commons

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Georgy Kuruvila Roy

Doesn’t the form in which the current debate on Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is taking place, make the implementation of the UCC an urgent concern? In other words, the UCC is required precisely to do away with the vilification of Muslims (or any community for that matter) that the present debate is fostering. Thus the paradox of the present situation is pretty clear: the solution process for the long standing animosity between different communities has itself become a symptom which requires the enactment of the UCC to prevent such debates from happening.

Do we actually realize the democratic consequences of narrowing down the debate as a question of us and them? With the Shah Bano case the dominant current of the debate is based on two nodal points: the victimized woman and the undemocratic Muslim personal law. Certain aspects of the Muslim personal law are seen as undemocratic like the unilateral divorce which was the question here. My intention in bringing this issue is that with this case the Hindu right reduced the question to that of the victimized woman and the Muslim community.

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Let us ask here a different question: what if women are not mere victims but are agents of a divorce? Or what if the woman demands divorce? This question enables us to move from mere victimhood to active agents in a democratic polity. This is how the UCC was first brought up in the colonial state by different women’s groups. They were actively demanding the implementation of UCC because the personal laws of communities were against the democratic spirit of equality and freedom. Here their claim was also that it was not just one community- like the Muslims presently- whose laws were problematic but the laws of all communities were patriarchal.

This would enable us to put the entire question of UCC in a different light- when it comes to UCC there is no beautiful us and violent them, we are all equally culpable. Secondly, if we are really talking about saving women from victimhood we are mistaken. The question is not that they are victims of some archaic law but that they are active agents who no longer believe in these archaic laws- the question of UCC is, how can we enable the democratic functioning of a society in such situations.

This is where one has to locate UCC in a very simple axiom. The axiom of No. What if a woman says no to the community laws? What if people say no to their caste and engage in inter caste marriages? The Uniform Civil Code is precisely required so that a woman who says no to her community or a couple who say no to the caste rules can exist here with the other communities. This is the problem of reducing the question of Uniform Civil Code as a problem of the Muslim community. If it was just the problem of the Muslim community we can just solve it by bringing a similar law like the Hindu Code bill. What is at stake in UCC is much more important precisely because it concerns our existence in a democratic polity.

Two instances that happened recently would illumine us here. Malayala Manorama reported a couple of months ago on how an Adivasi Ooru banned one of its inhabitants for marrying someone from out of the community. It also slammed a fine of 5000 rupees on 20 families who participated in the wedding. Another instance is from last year where the husband of an inter-caste couple was brutally murdered by goons commissioned by the girl’s parents because he belonged to a lower caste than them.

In both these cases we have communities who come under the Hindu Code Bill or Special Marriages act. But did these laws prevent them from being punished? The UCC is not just a law that allows particular individuals to pursue their freedom. The UCC is precisely something that enables these individuals to practice their freedom. The question is thus not can I do this but more importantly if I do this how will I be able to still continue? It is thus a Code that allows the praxis of equality and freedom.

Our multiculturalism is based on the idea “unity in diversity”? But this unity in diversity does not happen organically, for it to happen, the different communities have to set clear cut laws so that they can exist with each other. It is precisely the lack of this code that has made our multiculturalism “a form of legally regulated mutual ignorance or hatred”, as Zizek says. In India, the current situation of animosity between communities- inter-caste, inter-religious or between a religious and a liberal community has been largely due to the lack of a code to regulate and limit the effects of freedom and equality. As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek tells us: situations explode when the members of a particular religious community feel as blasphemous not just attacks on their religion BUT THE VERY WAY OF LIFE OF ANOTHER COMMUNITY. Isn’t this the specific case for us in India too? It is precisely for this that the UCC is required to guarantee religious freedom, freedom of the individual and to create a situation in which all communities can exist under a clear cut Code.

If there is a clear sign which points us to the unconscious of the present debate it is precisely a lack of talk about the sexual minorities and the LGBT community? While everyone was shouting out about how Muslims were villainous no one spoke about the status of the LGBT community within the UCC? It is as if we have already excluded them before even the debate started. If the Muslims as a community have been trying to not implement the UCC the LGBT community has been waging a long struggle to get themselves acknowledged by the Indian law. If the state really wanted to carry it out it could have garnered the support of those interested rather than putting it as a question of Muslim community which has resisted it from the beginning? This is the Islamophobia at the heart of the current campaign.

The other side of the coin is also equally fantastic. When the UN conducted the last referendum of the universal rights of LGBT communities the Indian state joined the Islamic bloc in abstaining from the vote citing cultural reasons. The question here is simple, what is our culture? Is it a democratic culture or the culture of a religious community? If in 1950 India became a republic guaranteeing universal rights and equality isn’t it precisely that culture which is our culture? The fight for a Uniform Civil Code is the fight for democracy and universal rights and a struggle for our own existence. It is only in this way can we see the Uniform Civil Code. The words of Zizek illumines here: if we don’t engage in it, we are really lost and we will deserve to be lost.



Georgy Kuruvila Roy is pursuing PhD in CSSS, Kolkata.

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.