The UCC as a reform for women's rights

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The UCC as a reform for women's rights

Thursday, 15 February 2024 | Prafull Goradia

The UCC as a reform for women's rights

The UCC is often seen as an imposition of Hindu law on Muslims. The core issue lies in the disparities within personal laws, particularly concerning women's rights

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC), in the news again now after the Uttarakhand government passed a bill in the assembly for enacting a law, must be looked at as a reform of women’s laws. Regrettably, everyone commenting on it appears to treat it as a Hindu-Muslim issue. A few experts have gone so far as to imply that the UCC is an attempt to impose Hindu law on Muslims, who have long adhered only to the Sharia law. Muslim scholars in India often brag that Prophet Mohammad thought of the welfare of women before Hindu rishis and Christian popes. He gave women property rights, which the adherents of other religions did not until much later.

This claim isn’t wrong; Hindu women obtained the right to inherit property as late as 1955 when the Hindu Code Bill was passed. That doesn’t mean polygamy should persist into the 21st century. Muslim apologists often argue by asking how many Muslims have more than one wife. That is not as relevant as the man having the legal right to marry and divorce as many times as he wishes. It is this threat rather than the existing reality. Even if this threat does not materialize into reality more than once in a thousand marriages, its existence is like a Damocles’ sword on the heads of innumerable wives, all their married lives. The fear under which many wives spend most of their lives is tantamount to cruelty, and a punishment to innocent women who have committed no crime. In contrast, a Pakistani woman is at peace until her husband actually asks for a divorce, which has to be sanctioned by the district magistrate; no divorce is valid without magisterial approval.

A Hindu friend of a Muslim would possibly sympathize with the protest against a uniform civil code provided he had witnessed any Islamic bigwigs reform or modernize Muslim laws in India. But there has been no attempt to do so. The clerics have preferred taqlid (orthodoxy) to ijtihad (reinterpretation). Life must be a paradise for men, even if women have to suffer fear like in hell. The Prophet had been a genius in psychology; he attracted the man in what has been a man’s world for centuries. It is this genius that has assured the continuous spread of Islam. It is only during the last few decades that the faith has started facing resistance. Until then, Islam brought wonders to its men, even if its womenfolk have had to survive in an atmosphere of tension and fear.

It is not only that divorcing a wife has been an easy matter for a husband. For the wife seeking a similar separation, she has the difficult option of khula, which is long, bothersome and expensive. On the other hand, the man’s privilege was expensive. By merely pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ (divorce) three times over less than three months, he could literally throw his wife out of the gate, with all her children. And the women were mostly untrained for any special vocation. What could they do to feed themselves and their children? Owing to the system of meher, which is payment by the man at the time of nikah, there was no need for the husband to pay any alimony. Shah Bano was a victim of this flaw.

A minimum age of 18 for the girl before nikah has been proposed in the bill recently passed by the Uttarakhand assembly. Otherwise, the criterion has been puberty, which could be 8, 9 or 10 years. How very young an age to marry off a girl! The question of education or vocational career did not arise. On top of this was the Damocles’ sword hanging on the girl’s head. What wrong had the womanhood of Islam done to deserve such a potential fate? One cannot also forget nikah halala, which is more unfortunate than any of the other humiliations. If after divorce, the same spouse decides to remarry, there is an extraordinary procedure. The woman has to first marry another man and this marriage has to be consummated. Thereafter, they must divorce. Only after that, the woman can remarry her first husband. The word “halala” stands for making something halal or legitimate. Divorce is mostly at the husband’s initiative, as we have seen above, and yet, for reunification, it is the wife who has to suffer the humiliating punishment of sleeping with an alien man. What could have been the justification while drafting the Sharia?

When it comes to distributing property or any other assets, boys and girls were treated as separate categories. Girls jointly got half of what the boys got. It is altogether a tale told by a senior cleric who had a punch of venom against the female gender. Why? Only the early history of Islam can tell us about the sociological circumstances that prevailed, which justified such discrimination against the womenfolk.

A man once came to Prophet Mohammad to seek his advice as to whether he should marry a woman of status and great beauty. The Prophet explicitly forbade him, saying: “Marry only those women who are loving and prolific, for I wish you to outnumber all other peoples through them” (Kitab Al-Nikah; No. 2045).

(The writer is a well-known columnist, an author and a former member of the Rajya Sabha. The views expressed are personal)

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