Faizan Mustafa is vice-chancellor of NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, and former registrar, Aligarh Muslim University.
It is true that most Muslims still do not know what the uniform civil code really means.
Generally, three arguments are put forth in favor of a uniform civil code
- national integration and draw minorities into the mainstream
- encourage communal harmony
- improving the status of women
Moreover, no one can say with certainty that communal riots take place because Hindus perform satpadi and Muslims nikah or that Hindus have one law of divorce while minorities have another.
Similarly personal law has no relationship whatsoever with the development or backwardness of any community.
The point which is often missed in this debate is that we have already reformed Hindu law. Has it resulted in the upliftment of Hindu women? How many Hindu women get a share in property? Taking advantage of the reduced registration fee and stamp duty, men purchase land in the name of their wife or daughter-in-law, but retain the title documents and control the land. Normative changes in law certainly do not bring about necessary social reform.
Why then has no government prepared any blueprint of a uniform civil code? Present day Hindu law should not and cannot become the uniform civil code.
Did not even the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee abandon it just to stay in power?
In the absence of a blueprint, ignorance over the matter is being misused by fundamentalists to state that a uniform civil code will lead to uniform ceremonies such as rites of death.
Also, no one speaks of the non-implementation of other directive principles that are far more important : the right to work, living wages, avoiding the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, protection of monuments, etc.
The Muslim law has been reformed in several countries. Then why have Muslims opposed reforms in India? The answer lies in the ‘minority psyche’ of Indian Muslims, which is tied to the question of their identity. Let them be convinced that a uniform civil code has nothing to do with their distinctive identity, let them develop faith in the new government, let them have a fair and equitable share in the power structure of the state and let culprits of communal violence not be rewarded with ministerial berths. Accepting a uniform civil code would then become far easier.
Muslims in India should also realise that in spite of uniform family laws in the West, Islam is growing at a very fast pace. Thus, a uniform civil code is not a great threat to the religion as it is perceived by many.
It is also disturbing to note that no one ever points out that many Hindus take advantage of their own personal law under the Hindu joint family system, causing losses worth millions of rupees to the income tax department. Will the BJP take the first step of withdrawing this benefit?
The enactment of a uniform civil code will disrupt communal harmony. The better course would be to bring about piecemeal reforms. There are already several reforms that go against personal laws. The British introduced a number of changes in Muslim Law: slavery was abolished, the loss of civil rights on apostasy was abrogated, Islamic Criminal Law was abolished and replaced with the Indian Penal Code, a comprehensive Evidence Act was enacted which made the Islamic law of evidence obsolete, etc.