Saturday, March 11, 2006

Feels great to be back!

Hi all!
It feels great to be back to blogdom! I have been quite busy all this while trying my best to be at least half a journalist. Our daily news shows are over and we'll have only special reports now.
A big thanks to all who have been visiting my blog while I was gone. Hope I can post more interesting stuff on my blog...
As I haven't had time to write much, I am posting my Politics assignment for now. It's about the Shah Bano case of 1985 and the debate over the Uniform Civil Code. I'd like to mention that it's only an attempt at understanding politics. All comments and suggestions are welcome...

It’s International Women’s Day on the 8th of March…a day celebrated by the United Nations to honour ordinary women who made a difference. And yet, all is not well. Like last year, Imrana and Gudiya lent faces to the horrible treatment meted out to women even in this age. Their life stories have brought back into focus the debate over the legitimacy of Muslim Personal Law and the demand for a Uniform Civil Code [UCC].

It all started in April 1985 when the Supreme Court gave Shah Bano, a Muslim divorcee, the right to maintenance for life. The judgment had entered stormy waters by challenging the Shariat that governs the personal life of a Muslim. And there emerged the demand for a more just personal law i.e. the UCC.

What could have been a chance for women to break away from the patriarchal domination over their lives became political warfare. The communal tone of the judgment and the reporting of the incident sparked hatred and insecurity between Hindus and Muslims. Political parties feasted on this disharmony to get back at each other and the issue of gender justice became only a disguise for mindless plotting.

For sometime now, the UCC has been on the agenda of the BJP and other right wing groups. In a debate at IIT-Kanpur in 2005, lawyer and BJP leader Arun Jaitley argued that even eminent members of the Constituent Assembly aimed at the final goal of a UCC. His party colleague and Rajasthan CM Vasundara Raje supported the demand asking for equal rights for women. They oppose the validity of triple talaq and polygamy.

Such views have emerged from a perception, natural or deliberate, that Islamic personal law is regressive. But, it’s important to remember that practices such as polygamy are as prevalent among Hindus as among Muslims. In fact, Muslim law grants more equal property rights to women than Hindu law. Also, the concept of a UCC contradicts, in principle, Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. Every person in secular India can profess, practise and propagate any religion of his/her choice. So how can the State impose a common law on everyone without a national consensus?

In the same debate, Mani Shankar Aiyar, a Congress member, questioned Jaitley as to why he hadn’t, in his six years as Union Law Minister, even tabled a bill for the BJP’s vehement demand for a UCC.

A debate between political parties is still digestible. We should worry when religious groups become fanatical in supporting or opposing the UCC. Muslim groups are strictly against the imposition of any kind. Muslims are constantly told how they need ‘protection’, with the recently constituted Ministry for Minorities being one such message. There has been enough violence against the community in the recent years. They feel ‘Islam is in danger’. And many are ready to do almost anything to protect what they think is the sanctity of their religion.

It would be wrong to think that most Hindus would support a UCC. First of all, their personal laws are already governed by the Hindu Code. In addition, there is diversity within the religion itself with marriage and family customs being different in different parts of the country. Would the Hindus from Tamil Nadu agree to compromise in favour of a marriage custom of Haryana?

When the Government is questioned about the cruel treatment to a Muslim woman, it chooses to stay out of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s way. They insist ‘the reform must come from within’. Such a reform is not likely to come about easily enough. Dr. Vibhuti Patel points out how reform has become a conflict between community authority and individual rights with each pulling at the other in the opposite direction.

It is in this scenario that Asghar Ali Engineer suggests ‘legal pluralism’ as a solution. Every religion must try to change regressive practices in their own religion to make it more humane toward women. Imposition in a pluralist country like India would not be without its share of communal violence. Even in a ‘modern’ country like France, the State’s version of secularism [forced uniformity] hasn’t gone down well with its immigrant population.

If things are to improve, religion in India will have to depart from communal interests and actually start working for gender justice. In 1985, Shah Bano had asked for the Supreme Court judgment to be withdrawn. She feared communal carnage against her community.

How many more Shah Banos will India see before it can promise its women citizens the right to an honourable life?


Anonymous Anay Joglekar said...

Nice article. I found this post from Bene Israelis to Dusari Chalwal to This one. I think reality is complex and we are making it complicated by finding Blanket Solutions. If there are personalised solutions to customers problems , why cant be in politics. The recent issue of Reservations, Ban or no Ban on Dance Bars in Maharashtra or as you said Uniform Civil Code.

I dont have answer to question How many Shah Bano more but lets hope this new medium of Blogs and TV with investigative journalism and celebrity participation (?) will improve system little bit anay.joglekar@gmail.com

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