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Muslim law offers more protection to women in divorce, inheritance: Gujarat rights group

Counterview Desk 

Gujarat civil rights group, Movement for Secular Democracy (MSD), in a representation to the chairman and members of the 22nd Law Commission of India, has said that while reforms of civil code are vital, one should not delve into the emotionally charged topic of the Universal Civil Code (UCC). 
“In Muslim law, marriage is seen as a contract that provides greater protections for women during divorce, while Hindu law considers marriage as a sacrament that may not provide the same safeguards”, MSD asserted.
It said, “The implementation of the UCC should not be exploited to advance the agenda of certain communal Hindu groups. Their push for the UCC does not arise from a genuine intention to foster equality, uniformity, and harmony among different segments of society. Instead, it serves as a tactic to further their anti-Muslim propaganda, using slogans such as One Nation, One Language, and One Law".

Text:

In response to the 22nd Law Commission’s call for public input regarding the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), two meetings were convened – one at Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group and another at Movement for Secular Democracy (MSD) -- to gather suggestions from the broader civil society regarding the intricacies of the UCC. We would like to present the suggestions that emerged from these discussions.
Preamble: The 22nd Law Commission of India has taken the initiative to seek public opinions and engage with recognized religious organizations and the public regarding the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). This follows the efforts made by the 21st Law Commission of India that has put forth recommendations for reforms in personal laws across religions, as well as secular laws that may disadvantage women and children. However, instead of implementing these recommendations, the 22nd Law Commission of India has decided to once again seek the opinions and ideas of the general public and recognized religious organizations within a 30-day timeframe regarding the UCC. Despite the limited time provided to submit recommendations to the 22nd Law Commission, we would like to reiterate our commitment to advocating for reform while respecting the Directive Principles of State Policy and striving for a society that upholds modern values of gender justice. Our stance aligns with the esteemed tradition of social reformists such as Raja Ram Mohan Roy and other freedom fighters. However, we would appreciate if you could provide a working paper that outlines the concept of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Without such a document, the ongoing debate risks losing its essence and becoming a tool for communal polarisation.

Suggestions

We earnestly urge the esteemed members of the 22nd Law Commission to approach the current situation in the country with a realistic and impartial perspective. It is vital that the esteemed Chairperson and Members consider all relevant factors and concerns, impartially evaluate the arguments presented here based on sound reasoning and undeniable truths, and reach a rational conclusion devoid of any external influences.
We are sure that government genuinely prioritizes gender equality. Reforms of Civil Code are vital rather than delving into the emotionally charged topic of the UCC. In Muslim law, marriage is seen as a contract that provides greater protections for women during divorce, while Hindu law considers marriage as a sacrament that may not provide the same safeguards. Moreover, the Muslim law of inheritance provides greater protection for women's rights and ensures a fair distribution of inheritance, including the concept of ‘mehr’ which remains exclusive to Muslim marriages. Hence, the assertion made by certain leaders regarding the UCC encompassing the positive aspects of all Personal Laws weakens when considering that certain features, like 'mehr,' cannot be practically incorporated into Hindu marriages or transform the sacred essence of Hindu marriages into contractual arrangements. These aspects are beneficial in their respective Personal Laws but may not be directly transferable between the two.
Also, the existing personal civil codes contain discriminatory provisions that adversely affect women and children. These laws must be reformed, not solely in pursuit of uniformity, but in the pursuit of equality and justice for those who have been marginalized. Therefore, what is truly required at this moment is not a UCC but a civil code that upholds principles of fairness and justice within the ambit of Personal Laws. If personal laws of all communities are reformed by addressing injustices, the outcome will naturally lead to greater uniformity. This would help establish a comprehensive framework of gender-just rights that encompassed not only areas covered by Personal Laws but also extend to the "public" domain of work, including provisions such as childcare facilities, safe workplace free of sexual harassment, equal wages, and maternity benefits, which should be accessible to all citizens.
Significant strides have been made within Personal laws. For instance, the Indian Divorce (Amendment) Act, 2001 played a crucial role in fostering a more equitable approach to divorce law for Indian Christians. Furthermore, numerous Muslim reform organizations have worked to develop diverse iterations of model nikahnamas, specifically developed to safeguard women's rights, though awaiting the endorsement of community leaders. There has been promising development resulting from the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986, specially regarding the utilization of Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) for the benefit of Muslim women. Through this provision, Muslim women are entitled to maintenance benefits within a secular legal framework. Research examining the implementation of the Muslim Women Act of 1986 reveals that Muslim women have witnessed favorable results stemming from the courts' innovating interpretations of the legislation. 
If personal laws of all communities are reformed by addressing injustices, the outcome will naturally lead to greater uniformity
By strategically directing attention towards areas beyond the scope of Personal Laws, significant advancements have been made. An important accomplishment in this context is the passing of the Domestic Violence Act in 2005, which provides women with safeguards against domestic violence and ensures their entitlement to the matrimonial home. Additionally, revisions to the Juvenile Justice Act in 2006 have simplified the process of legal adoption for individuals across all communities. These progressions serve as compelling illustrations of the positive results that emerge when focusing on aspects that extend beyond the limitations of Personal Laws.
We would like to reaffirm our position regarding the implementation of a UCC that upholds equal rights for all citizens, irrespective of caste, community, religion, or gender, in matters pertaining to marriage, divorce, adoption, and succession. However, we believe that the introduction of the UCC should only be pursued after fulfilling the necessary conditions for its seamless implementation and widespread acceptance. Due consultation with diverse religious, ethnic and other groups is warranted before drafting the Code of Civil Procedures. This would go a long way in fostering unity among the people, promoting harmony among diverse communities, eradicating religious intolerance, and eliminating regional and linguistic sectarianism. It is crucial to understand that uniformity does not imply the imposition of assimilation upon individuals; rather, it should evolve naturally through a genuine commitment to historical precedents.
Our main contention is that the implementation of the UCC should not be exploited to advance the agenda of certain communal Hindu groups. Their push for the UCC does not arise from a genuine intention to foster equality, uniformity, and harmony among different segments of society. Instead, it serves as a tactic to further their anti-Muslim propaganda, using slogans such as "One Nation, One Language, and One Law" to pursue their malevolent objective of establishing a 'Hindu Rashtra' and exerting coercive control over the lives of Muslims and Christians. We earnestly urge the esteemed members of the 22nd Law Commission to approach the current situation in the country with a realistic and impartial perspective. It is vital that they consider all relevant factors and concerns, impartially evaluate the arguments presented here based on sound reasoning and undeniable truths, and reach a rational conclusion devoid of any external influences.
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