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A uniform code for women needed to show sympathy and support to Muslim women

By NS Venkataraman* 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has proposed to introduce Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India, where all citizens would have same law with regard to economic, social and religious rights. If such law were to be enacted, it would certainly ensure that injustice done to Muslim women in India would be wiped out in one stroke. However, this proposed uniform civil code has been opposed by Muslim clergies and several Muslim associations which are largely dominated by Muslim menfolk. 
It remains to be seen whether Modi government would be able to implement much needed uniform civil code in the face of opposition not only from Muslim clergies but also from a few political parties who want to keep the Muslim men in good humour as part of their vote bank politics.
Meanwhile, a massive national debate has been ignited in India on UCC. The national debate is now aiding the process of crystallising the UCC concept and perhaps, this is what Mr. Modi wanted when he spoke on the subject. In India’s noisy democracy, there are reported to be around 2500 political parties including the small and tiny ones .
Most of these parties are family controlled or under the control of local chieftains and sometimes , they take stand on issues which are largely guided by local and vested interests that overlook the national interest and priorities. It appears that such conditions are inevitable in a densely populated country like India, where multiple languages are spoken, different traditional practices are followed and there are considerable economic, social and educational disparities that exist between people.
In such conditions, rarely every political party and outfits agree on any reform measure that would be introduced by the government. Not surprisingly, there are views for and against UCC.
The ongoing national debate appear to indicate that considerable section of population understand the need and significance of UCC. However, a few religious bodies and regional outfits oppose the UCC and a few opposition political parties who consider these outfits as their vote bank are also inclined to oppose UCC. The supporters say that there is uniform criminal code already in India and there is no controversy on this and therefore, there should be no objection for uniform civil code also. However, the critics say that this uniform civil code is a gross interference in the religious and social freedom of the people.
Some political parties express strange view that they support UCC but do not like the way that Modi government want to implement it. Obviously, they do not want Modi government to take credit for implementing the policy.
In such scenario, the end result could be that implementation of the UCC reform measures may create counterproductive controversies and may also lead to public demonstrations against UCC and even violence, that would vitiate the political and social climate in the country. Such development should be avoided.
In such circumstances, what is the way out for Modi government to implement the much needed UCC that would serve the larger interests of all the women all over India.
It has been repeatedly pointed out by Modi and several votaries of UCC that though there are many clauses in UCC, the central theme of UCC is essentially to protect the rights and privileges of women and their dignity.
It is interpreted by the critics and some opposition parties in India that UCC is an attempt to reform religious practices, which is not true. To call this bluff, it would be appropriate that the UCC should be rechristened as Uniform Women Code and under this head, the policy should be implemented.
In the proposed Uniform Civil Code now being formulated, all aspects that are related to protecting the privileges of women should be taken out and included in the Uniform Women Code.
The objective of Uniform Women Code should be clearly explained as a policy measure to ensure that rights and liberties are uniformly protected for all women in India , whatever may be their economic and social status or religion or castes that they belong to. Such statutory protection would enable all women everywhere in India to live with dignity and have equal status in all respects with men.
No one can object to the move to protect the rights and privileges of women and even the religious groups and political parties with vested interests will not be daring enough to oppose Uniform Women Code, as such opposition would amount to anti women stand and consequently unpopular and uncivilised one.
Further, it would be appropriate to launch a national campaign in support of the Uniform Women Code, that is bound to have all round support of women in India. Those women who are now suffering and are unable to vent out their grievances fearing the menfolk in their families and religious groups, may get emboldened to participate in the popular pro women campaign which would reflect and highlight the essence of Uniform Women Code.
The Uniform Women Code may not be a full substitute for UCC. Nevertheless, it would meet the objective of the Uniform Civil Code to a considerable extent.

Muslim women suffer in India:

Poverty level amongst Muslim population in India is a matter of concern. A careful analysis of the ground realities would indicate that such conditions are largely due to the suppression of women’s rights and liberty and restriction of their activities. The educational level and awareness level of amongst considerable section of Muslim women in India are not on par with the other women in the society.
In effect, nearly half the Muslim population in India (mostly Muslim women) are not part of economic activities in any meaningful way and their potentials and talent remain deliberately suppressed. Muslim women in India need sympathy, support and understanding from all quarters. Today, even as UCC is being proposed and it would benefit the Muslim women enormously, Muslim women remain conspicuous in India by silence, unable to gather courage to demand their legitimate rights.
Any country or society can claim status as civilized one, only if the men and women are treated equally and on par as per the law of the land. Of course, there can be instances, where some section of the people may harass women in one form or the other, whatever may be the law of the land.. In such condition, those who harass women would be considered as punishable law breakers, in countries where the laws do not permit unequal status between men and women in any way.
Unfortunately, there are some countries in the world, where Muslim women are looked upon as if they are inferior to men and their freedom and movement are severely restricted by the law of the land. The restrictions are in various forms and methods such as insistence on dress code, lack of liberty to pray in mosques along with men, denial of driving licence and even restricted freedom of movement in some places.
Particularly in countries like Iran and Afghanistan, the conditions faced by Muslim women are extremely hard, which can even be termed as cruel. In some other Islamic countries, it may be less severe but nevertheless conditions and practice are not fair to women. Even in secular country like India, Muslim women suffer from several restrictions and discriminatory laws against them.
For several decades, thousands of Muslim women in some Islamic countries and in country like India have been silently bearing the brunt of suffering, fearing the clergies and men folk belonging to their religion.. While some women in Afghanistan and Iran protested recently and they demanded their due rights and privileges, the protest movement were suppressed severely by the government. However, other countries and world citizens mostly watched the situation in Afghanistan and Iran from the gallery and restricted their reactions to mere lip sympathy. In other words, the Muslim women in Iran, Afghanistan and some other countries remain isolated in their struggle for freedom and liberty.
It is known that those who want the Muslim women’s freedom to be restricted and suppressed are the clergies and fanatic religious followers. They seem to view women as if they are only “child bearing machines” and largely as those created by God to satisfy the needs of men and their expectation women have to isolate themselves from public view.. Of course, there are many Muslim men who are unhappy about this situation but they do not seem to lend their voice of support in any meaningful way.

Case study in India:

India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, with 14.5% of the Indian population of 1400 million being Muslims. Obviously, India has also the largest Muslim women population in the world.
There are many laws in India which are against women. For example. Muslim men can have four wives at any time, which shows lack of concern and care about the feelings of women as well as indicate the lack of respect for womanhood. This practice is permitted by law in India as on today.
Until recently, the law was that the Muslim husband can divorce the one or more wives by simply stating what is known as triple talaq and some men are reported to have said triple talaq even without seeing the wife face to face. This practice has been stopped now in India by the present government, which has given great relief to Muslim women. However, it is reported that such practice continues to be prevalent occasionally in India.
In case of divorce, Muslim man would not lose any financial rights, whereas if a Muslim woman were to divorce the husband, she would lose the financial rights. This is the law in India today. In the case of any dispute between husband and wife with regard to the children, Muslim husband can straightaway have the custody of the children, if he would so desire, but Muslim woman need to approach the court to get permission to have the custody of children. These are only a few examples of the prevailing unjust laws and obnoxious practices in India against Muslim women.
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*Trustee, Nandini Voice For The Deprived, Chennai

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