Uniform Civil Code: Not just triple talaq

November 17, 2016 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

Delhi, November 17, 2016: While there has been a lot of brouhaha regarding how the Uniform Civil Code will affect Muslims, the Law Commission, in its questionnaire asking the public for suggestions, raises pertinent issues on other religions, too.

It’s been over a month since the Law Commission of India (LCI) sought suggestions from the public on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), but what has caught most people’s attention are issues like ‘triple talaq’ and the ‘Muslim Personal Law’. The document, however, seeks opinion on other issues which affect Hindus, Christians and Parsis as well.

With less than a week to go before the 45-day deadline set by the LCI to give your suggestions ends, Mirror takes a look at the issues pertaining to other religions.

The views are divergent from the three communities – Hindus are offering conditional support, Christians are opposing and Parsis are a bit sceptical.

Possibly the most pertinent issue connected to Hindus is a woman’s right to property. While there are laws in place giving rights to women in ancestral properties as well as properties belonging to her husband or in-laws, it is hardly practised in reality. So, the UCC questionnaire wants to know if steps should be taken to ensure that Hindu women are better able to exercise their right to property (See box).

The issue pertaining to Christians is on the “two-year waiting period” for Christian couples seeking divorce by mutual consent, while the same for Hindus and other religions covered by that law is only six months.

Milind Joshirao, president of Abhinav Bharat, a right-wing organisation inspired by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s ideology, welcomed the LCI’s efforts to solicit opinions and ideas of the public at large. Joshirao told Mumbai Mirror, “In Hinduism, succession rights in property are already given to women. However, social pressure on women or lack of awareness about these laws is a hurdle in women’s empowerment. So, if, through UCC, these rights are made compulsory to all religions including Hinduism, we should welcome it. But it should be same for all religions. Muslim women, for instance, are deprived of this right. If Savarkar was alive today, he would have given these rights to Muslim women too.”

Founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, Zakia Soman, said, “Hindu, Parsi and Christian women have their own codified laws under which they are able to seek justice. But Muslim women are suffering legal discrimination as we don’t have codified Muslim law in our country. Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 is incomplete. So we need family law, like others.” She also believes that UCC should be optional “so Muslim women can decide what they want”.

Santosh Rai, interim president of Hindu Mahasabha (Loktantrik) says his organisation’s support to UCC is conditional. “We support the initiative if all religions are brought at par. Now, administration and judiciary systems always interfere in Hindu religious customs, but don’t touch Muslims.”

Ram Apte, senior counsel of Bombay High Court and Konkan region president of Akhil Bhartiya Adhivakta Parishad, which is associated with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), said, “Every community, including Hindus, will not accept any change in their current religious customs easily. But it is the need of the hour.” He added Hindu Code Bills have mostly codified all the Hindu personal laws such as Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act and Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act. But there is no uniformity in all the religious Acts in India. “It is not an easy process to bring this uniformity but we have started the process. UCC is already mentioned in the directives of the Constitution. But since they are only directives, they are not enforceable. We want UCC for all religions.”

Expectedly, not all are in support of the UCC. Joseph Dias, general secretary of Catholic Secular Forum, is strongly opposing UCC, as he feels it is a political move. Dias told Mumbai Mirror, “The State cannot encroach upon the religious freedom given by the Indian Constitution. If necessary, we can amend the present codified laws but there is no need of a new law. The codified laws come from different religious personal laws and these are based on religious texts or beliefs. State law cannot interfere and violate in religious customs. It will only invite social disharmony and disturb the social fabric in a diverse country like India.”

A QUESTION OF ADOPTION THAT MAY AFFECT PARSIS

One point in the LCI questionnaire dealing with family law has a direct impact on the Parsi community. The question is regarding whether the UCC should include the subjects of marriage, divorce and adoption, among other issues, within its ambit.

The ever-dwindling community does not allow adoption. Advocate Taubon Irani says, “I am personally in favour of adoption for the simple reason that the strength of the community has been constantly on the downfall. Though I am not sure how the community will take this move.”

Parsis in India ostracise a woman if she marries outside their community, while a man doing the same is not ostracised the same way, although he can no longer reside within a Parsi colony.

When it comes to divorce, Parsis don’t have any “cooling-off period” if the couple approaches the court with mutual consent. Also, a divorce case can be filed within just a month of marriage, unlike the Hindu or the Special Marriage Act, which requires the couple to be married for a year. Uniformity in provisions would mean waiting for at least a year after marriage to file for divorce and a sixmonth cooling off period.

On this aspect, Irani says, “While there would be couples who would not like this, it does give the couple one last chance to give their marriage another chance.”

Dinshaw Mehta, former chairman of the Bombay Parsi Punchayet, however, opposed this on both the counts. According to Mehta there is no need to make any changes to the law so far as divorce is concerned as “there is no point in asking an incompatible couple to cohabit for one year before filing for divorce”. On the point of adoption, Mehta said that the community would follow the guidance given by their high priests, scholars and clergy.

– mumbai mirror

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