India is a welfare state. Gender justice and equality has been a part of the Preamble since the beginning. To prohibit discrimination on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex etc. the state has made uniform laws for all matters other than a uniform law relating to marriage, adoption, inheritance etc. The framers of the Indian Constitution had incorporated Article 44 as part of the Directive Principles in Part iii of the Constitution.
It has been more than half a century since Article 44 was enacted. But successive governments have not shown any courage or taken any steps to act on it. Though the need for a uniform code is debated- on and off- a small but blatant section of Indian Muslims which constitute the largest minority group have always opposed it on the grounds of religious interference and the larger but quieter voice of gender justice has been dismissed resulting in uncertainties and continued discrimination. A uniform code has been wrongly advanced as an assault on religion and religious identities. What it essentially aims at is secular reform of existing personal laws in respect of which all religious traditions have grossly discriminated against women. A uniform civil code is, therefore, foremost a matter of gender justice.
In the context of the current debate on the Uniform Civil Code, there is a need to rethink the women’s question and rework currently accepted notions on gender justice. Given the political nature of the UCC debate, there is a need to reconceptualise our existing legal and political institutions to make them more responsive to the diverse claims of justice. The women’s movement of the 1920s and 1930s can be considered the front runner in the direction of UCC. However certain faults emerged in their demand which came to the surface only after the Shah Bano case. This case which revolved around the maintenance of divorced Muslim women, apparently a gender just demand became a rallying point for of the Hindu groups aggressively targeting the Muslims. As Madhu Kishwar pointed out the demand for UCC turned from a pro women to anti- Muslim one. With time, there was also a growing realization that justice was not available for women despite their efforts and there was an immediate need to rework the whole issue of gender justice through legal means.
Presently, as we approach the ending of another year, the possibility of the Parliament promulgating a UCC looms large on the nation’s polity. In the Muslim community, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board is clear that it shall oppose any attempts to adopt a UCC. However, the recent decision of the court to declare the practice of triple talaq as void especially in the context of the talaq-i-biddat marks a step forward in the attempts taken by the Government to reform already existing religious laws and ensuring gender justice. All this clearly shows that an irreversible movement towards securing a UCC for our country has begun.
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