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UCC – Searching black cat in dark room: Prof. Ravi Varma Kumar

UCC is like the paradoxical elephant praised by five blind persons in five different ways. No one has seen UCC and still discuss about it. It is like searching a black cat in a dark room.

– Mohammed Atherulla Shariff

Bangalore, October 8, 2023: All religions are fossilized, they do not change. Even the superstitions, which go against the scientific facts, are upheld by the religionists, how can there be a commonness among all the religions, argued Prof. Ravi Varma Kumar, former Advocate General of Karnataka.

Expounding his point, Prof. Kumar referred to the superstition of ‘auspicious time’. He said we wait for auspicious time to launch satellites, wasting several man hours of the nation. Taking the point further, he said

the issue of auspicious time is looked upon differently by different castes among Hindus themselves. One caste argues that a marriage solemnized at inauspicious time is invalid and for other castes it is immaterial. When there can be no uniformity on such issues in one religious group, is it possible to bring uniformity among all the religions in the country, Prof. Kumar questioned.

Participating in a panel discussion on Uniform Civil Code here Saturday, Prof. Kumar said UCC is like the paradoxical elephant praised by five blind persons in five different ways. No one has seen UCC and still discuss about it. It is like searching a black cat in a dark room, he commented. The discussion was organized by the Karnataka chapter of Forum for Democracy and Communal Amity (FDCA).

Perilous Attitude
Turning the pages of history. Prof. Kumar referred to the fate of Hindu Code Bill introduced by Dr. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly, which was also a Provincial Parliament, way back in April 1947. The Bill was meant to bring equality among Hindu men and women in respect of right to marriage, succession and adoption. It is the best example to keep before debating about UCC, he said. He explained how clause by clause the Bill was applauded and approved when it was put to vote first in the legislature party meeting of the Congress Party. But was ultimately voted out in the House due to the staunch opposition from the predecessors of our present prime minister, he said. Nehru’s cabinet members and even the parliamentary affairs minister remained absent in the discussion. Disgusted extremely, Dr. Ambedkar tendered his resignation, Prof. Kumar lamented.

In the subsequent parliamentary election, the Hindu nationalist lobbied to field one common candidate against Jawahar Lal Nehru in order to stop him from entering the Parliament, fearing that he may reintroduce the bill once again. Such being the attitude towards reformative measures among Hindus, how anybody can think of uniformity among all the religions, Prof. Kumar argued.

Different kinds of Uniform Required
I am for a uniform code when it comes to the issue of eradicating evil practices and discriminations against women in every religion. Be it a Hindu woman, a Christian woman or a Muslim woman, there should be no discrimination against her. Discrimination like Sati should also be abolished. Above all the caste system should be abolished. If it remains intact in the Hindu society, its virus will infect other religions too, Prof. Kumar concluded emphatically.

Burning issues require urgent attention
Former judge of Karnataka High Court, Justice Nagmohan Das said that our Constitution is silent about Common Civil Code and the judgments of different courts also have not explained what the UCC is all about. The debate was initiated after a passing reference made by the prime minister recently. Several people at government level have advocated differently but none has explained what would be the complete structure of the code.

Of all said and done, is it the right time to drag such an issue into debate, he questioned. At a time when the unity and solidarity of the country is being demolished in the name of religion, caste and language, Manipur has been burning for months, Kashmir is in peril, and conditions are worsening in many areas, they need urgent attention rather than the UCC, he deplored.

Uncalled for revision of Law Commission recommendations
Senior journalist Shiv Sundar reminded that the 21st law commission headed by Justice Balbir Singh Chauhan, after considering 4 lakh opinions received from the citizens had categorically said in its report in 2018 that Uniform Civil Code is neither desirable nor necessary. The Commission appointed by the BJP government in 2015 had instead recommended uniformity in each religious group and not the uniform civil code, Mr. Sundar explained. What was the need then to review these recommendations by the newly formed law commission, he questioned.

He also expressed astonishment at the appointment of Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi, who had given judgment against Hijab in Karnataka and retired, as Chairman of 22nd Law Commission.

Myth against Muslims
The bogy raised by the BJP for Uniform Civil Code is to check the rapid growth of Muslim population since they can have more than one wife at one time, meaning producing more children than the Hindus. Muslims will one day overrun other communities and this nation cannot become a Hindu rashtra, they say. Hence, they intend to contain Muslim population by bringing in UCC and restrict the Muslim men to one wife, Mr. Sundar explained.

But the recent caste survey released in Bihar figures only 1.8% growth in Muslim population, whereas the OBC population has grown by 3%. Similar is the picture elsewhere in the country that breaks the myth of explosion of Muslim population, he added.

Islam closer to Indian Constitution
Analysing the teachings of different religions, Mr. Shiv Sundar said Islam is closer to Indian Constitution than Manusmiriti. Manusmiriti is not a religious inscription rather it is a political document. We should make the religions consonant to the Constitution gradually, he explained.

Pluralism over uniformity required
Another panelist, Dr. Belgami Mohammed Saad, president of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, Karnataka, said, our Constitution recognizes the diversity and plurality of the society by protecting cultural and religious freedom of different individuals and groups. The mention of uniform civil code in Directive Principles is being often quoted in negation of personal laws and interpreted in different ways. Directive Principles cannot override the fundamental rights ensured in the Constitution, he said. Since UCC is neither enforceable nor justiciable, it has to be debated and discussed at the experts’ level.

Dr. Belgami emphasized that there are more issues mentioned in the Directive Principles. Reforming the personal laws of different communities, keeping in mind common constitutional ideas is what is required. It should not be used to abrogate the personal laws, he argued. It is an age of legal pluralism best exemplified in the corporate sector. So pluralizing personal laws by itself is not a problem. It is the harmony and unity which is more important than an artificial uniformity that the nation requires, he added.

Family Laws in Islam are not a ritual
Personal laws for Muslims mean the directives from the Quran and Sunnah, it is not a custom or ritual. It is binding on the believers to abide by it unequivocally. Muslims have been practicing it for over 1400 years, even during the British period it was not changed. It is an irony for the Muslims in India as their contribution to freedom struggle is no less than that of others, to lose the right to practice their religion. Whatever be the pretext, it will create deep unrest and chaos, Dr. Belgami narrated.

Vicious propaganda
The perceived injustice to Muslim women is more a hype than reality and is fueled by vicious propaganda. The statistics of divorce and polygamy among Muslims speaks in itself, said Dr. Belgami. I do concede some injustices and excesses happen but it is more due to the abuse of law rather than the law itself, he clarified. Elaborating the argument, Dr. Belgami said there is nothing to the disadvantage of any section or women in particular in the Muslim personal law, i.e. Shariah. The irregularities in the practice shall be reformed from within the community and the government should facilitate for this. Encourage the Muslim Personal Board to set up dispute resolution centers and Dar ul Qadha which can hasten justice and make it more cost effective, he said.

Both Islam and the Indian Constitution share the ideals of equality and justice. The ideals are always held in high esteem but the approach may be different. Family laws in Islam being divine in origin are balanced and harmonious. The rights of women are protected by intricate mechanism, explained Dr. Belgami.

It is more prudent to let the communities to reform their own personal laws, preserve the diversity and fundamental rights of all religions and cultures and thus strengthen the cohesion and growth of a strong nation India, he concluded.

Mere a slogan
In his presidential remarks, Justice Gopal Gowda, former judge of Supreme Court said Uniform Civil Code is only a slogan that has been going on for the last 75 years in this country, unfortunately. Even the literates also are illiterate about the Constitution. Our rulers have taken us for a ride. Their pastime slogan becomes an issue in this country. Except one political party no one else is talking about UCC. The Directive principles of the state policy shall be read in the light of part III of the Constitution. Can Article 44 override the Preamble? Article 14 protects the religious liberty of the people. Even the customary practices of the people are protected under Article 13, the renowned judge concluded.

Earlier, Ms. Cynthia Stephen, journalist and activist also spoke on the topic. Dr. M.T. Mateen, a renowned physician moderated the discussion.

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