News Akbar wants Muslim code  
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Will India ever have a Muslim Code Bill? asked M.J.Akbar in a Times of India article recently. I have no idea what prompted him to reopen the debate on the issue. He genuinely feels that the Muslim community needs to emerge as a modern society. Many progressive Hindus shy away from participating in this debate lest they attract abuse not from the Muslim community but from ’secularists’ who have elevated the espousal of the Muslim cause to a lucrative industry. Politicians of all hues wishing well of the Muslim community don’t voice their views because it will benefit the BJP. Akbar asked, ‘Will Rajiv’s son Rahul Gandhi seek what might be called a Shah Bano moment, or will the need for votes sabotage the compulsion of reform once again? History has answered this question in the Sha Bano case.

Akbar is pained that the benefits of modernity are eluding the Muslim community and cited four non-negotiable rights to define modernity. They are equality of citizenship across origin and gender; secularism; liberty of speech; and economic equity. The Muslims are as good as others on each of the four counts. They enjoy a few privileges denied to others. As Balbir Punj had said in the Times of India ‘the issue here is not that of Hindu versus Muslim but modernity versus orthodoxy.’ This neede reiteration because Tahir Mehmood, former chairman of the Minorities Commission, had said that uniform civil code was a euphemism for Hindu law. A Uniform Civil Code is not exclusively about Muslims. It applies to the Christians and the Hindus who still deny the right to inherit intestate property to their daughters.

Mehmood in an article tried to selectively interpret Supreme Court observations to oppose a common civil code. Akbar had rightly said that it was a paradox of secular India that one definition of secularism has become the right of minorities to retreat into conservatism. In an article in The Hindu Rajeev Dhavan tried to argue, like a moulvi or imam, that one of the reasons to demand a code is to chastise the Muslims with the false argument that the Hindus have a code and to force Muslims to yield to one. Bizarre! When people ask the Muslims to join the mainstream they are not asking them to give up their faith or cease to be Muslims.

None of these friends of the Muslim community ever cared to highlight the disabilities of Muslim women under their personal laws. The veil to which Akbar had referred, for instance. He said, ‘The visible rise of the veil in Indian Muslim communities requires little elaboration Media have always interviewed Muslim men on the code and rarely women. They glorified the late Kamala Soraya for wearing a burqa never caring to ask her how it empowered her. In his just published book Mother of the Believers, California-based Kamran Pasha relates the origin of the veil. On seeing his beloved wife Aisha attracting the attention of men by her jokes at a banquet, Prophet Mohammed said as Allah’s revelation, ‘When you ask his (the Messenger of God) wives something, do so from behind a curtain.’ ‘He told his wife, Mother of the Believers, ‘From this point on, you may not speak to any man who is not mehrem except through a veil or curtain.’

Take a poll. You’ll find that a majority of Muslim women would denounce burqa as a tyrannical imposition by the Muslim male, quoting Koran. Imagine burqa empowering Sania Mirza to vanquish every rival. Will she ever get past the first round? This fanaticism has reached such a point where Muslim women refuse to be photographed without the veil even for the purposes of a passport. An old Tribune editorial said, ‘Except for the Dukhtaran-e-Millat, a fundamentalist organization of Muslim women, most militant outfits operating in the valley — the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, etc — have denounced the forcible imposition of the Islamic dress code as the Hurriyat Conference did before them. There is already great revulsion among the public against forcing women to dress against their wishes.’

The UCC debate opened in a serious way in 2003 following a Supreme Court obiter dicta on the need for UCC. It received extremely cautious response from the media, advising the society and the government to seek a consensus (The Tribune and the Asian Age}. Many newspapers, without opposing the idea of a common code, linked it to the fear that some Hindu groups are likely to claim that the code is a sequel to their advocacy. This theory sounds silly because it denies the Muslim women their due on the ground it boosts the image of the BJP. The Indian Express said, ‘one group wishes to enact a common civil code with the express purpose of bludgeoning their ‘opponents’ into submission.’

The Times of India said that ‘the reason why different communities in India, particularly minorities, don’t equally identify with the idea of India is not because they follow different laws but because the Indian state has not done enough to include them in the political and economic mainstream.’ How much is enough, Mr. Editorial Writer? Such lies get fresh life mainly from the ‘secular’ parties. Many newspapers talked of the Gujarat events and the sense of insecurity it had spread among the minorities to explain their opposition to it. Gujarat happened 55 years after independence and has nothing to do with the UCC debate. Now, it is clear that even if the Congress is ready to introduce a bill, other parties will frustrate it lest they forfeit the Muslim vote.

This was not the first time that the Supreme Court had drawn the government’s attention to its failure to implement the Article 44 that says that it n which predates the endeavour of the government to bring in a common civil code. As early as the Shah Bano case, the court had asked the government to introduce the code saying it would lead to national integration.

In a case in which a man married a second woman without divorcing his first wife by converting to Islam that permits a man to have four wives, the apex court (Justices Kuldip Singh and R.Sahai) reminded the government of its obligations under Article 44. They said. ‘Much (mis)apprehension prevailed about bigamy in Islam and many Islamic countries have codified the personal law to check its abuse. Polygamy has been completely banned in Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Pakistan, Iran and the Islamic republics of the former Soviet Union.’ This observation came in the wake of four petitions filed by Hindu women who had been deserted by their husbands after they converted to Islam.

When some friends of the Shariat argued that Article 44 being a Directive Principle and is therefore not mandatory, India Today pointed out Justice P.N.Bhagawati’s observation (Minerva Mills case 1979) that the court could in certain circumstances direct the government to implement a Directive Principle.

The chances for a UCC are slim under a Congress regime and parties pretending to be secular because they equate secularism with the freedom of the Muslim community to resist reform in the name of religion. Though Akbar rightly called Jawaharlal Nehru as the builder of modern India to attribute the Hindu Code Bill to him he forgot that it was passed because a majority of the Hindus wanted change. Hindu reform began as early as Raja Ram Mohun Roy himself, followed by reformers in every state of India. Akbar had said that in earlier article: “The BJP might want to consider a fundamental fact about our country. India is not a secular nation not because Indian Muslims want it to be secular. India is a secular nation because Indian Hindus want it to be secular. Add Tariq Fateh. Also Ahmedabad mayor.

Dasu Krishnamoorty is a retired assistant editor of Patriot, New Delhi and Associate Professor at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi

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