After forming a new government in Uttarakhand, the Bharatiya Janata Party passed the proposal to implement the Uniform Civil Code in the very first meeting of the state cabinet. It also approved the formation of a panel for it. Since then, the question of UCC has been at the centre of many debates again, not only in Uttarakhand but across India.
Only a few days ago, in an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court, in response to a petition regarding UCC, the Narendra Modi government had noted that people of different religions follow different (personal) laws related to property and marriage, which is an affront to the unity of the country. The Centre further stated that the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code will work towards unifying India. The government had earlier said it would examine the matter of framing the code in consultation with various stakeholders after receiving the report of the Law Commission. According to the government, this matter is ‘important and sensitive’ and therefore required a thorough study.
The debate around UCC isn’t new. It keeps cropping up from time to time. The matter was hotly debated even during the framing of the Constitution, after which the government was given the right to try and form such a code under Article 44 (a directive principle). On several occasions, while emphasising the need for such a law, the High Courts and the Supreme Court have urged the government to take steps for it, but they are yet to materialise.
People often make an attempt to put a communal colour to the UCC issue by terming it as an ‘interference’ in the religious matter of Muslims and a plot against Islam. This is done at the behest of the upper-class Ashraaf community who are currently leading the Muslim society. The reality is different.
Also Read: India’s Muslim community under a churn: 85% backward Pasmandas up against 15% Ashrafs
False propaganda against UCC
Pasmanda activist Maulana Kahkashan Waqar says that the propaganda against UCC tells Muslims that they won’t be able to bury their dead and be cremated instead, they will have to follow Hindu rituals during marriage, not be able to wear skull caps, and their faith will be ruined.
However, a closer look shows that the UCC talks about the provision of equality for all citizens of the country only in matters like marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance and succession. It is not only for Muslims but will also apply to various other sections of society (Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Lingayats), other minorities as well as many tribal societies.
The point to ponder here is that when the criminal laws, which apply equally to all Indians, do not affect the faith and belief (iman) of a Muslim, how can someone’s belief in Islam be endangered if a uniform law is implemented?
Another often-cited argument is that there is no scope for reform in Sharia law, its literal compliance is mandatory and, in the case of Muslims, their personal law should be based on Sharia only. Here, we must ask a fundamental question: Is Sharia the divine law? Islamic Sharia law has been formed and amended from time to time by Islamic scholars on the basis of the Qur’an and the preaching and actions of Muhammad (or His hadith). So there are several forms of Sharia and they have different interpretations. Obviously, Sharia is a man-made law and not a divine one, as has been propagated. And there is ample scope for amendments in it according to the needs of the time.
There is a historical precedent for changes in Sharia law too. During Caliph Umar’s reign, when there was a severe famine, he suspended the severing of hands that is prescribed as punishment for theft according to Sharia law. It must be noted that this punishment is mentioned in the Qur’an too. Still, the adjustment was made in the larger interest of the public.
Also Read: Pasmanda Muslims missing from positions of power— Waqf Board to Jamaat-e-Islami
Pasmanda Muslims and ‘preservation’ of culture
Another argument cited in favour of personal law is that Muslims need it to preserve their civilisation, culture and tradition. Even in this context, we need to note the fundamental difference between the self-proclaimed ‘foreigners’ — the Ashraafs — and the indigenous Pasmanda community. The Pasmandas’ language, attire, civilisation, belief, rituals, culture, ethics and behaviour are based on a particular Indian region, which is completely different from the Ashraaf Muslims. A Pasmanda in Chennai differs from a Pasmanda in Srinagar; a Pasmanda in Ahmadabad will also be quite different from a Pasmanda in Kolkata. Similarly, a Pasmanda in Pune differs from Pasmanda in Varanasi. While Ashraafs of Chennai, Srinagar, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Pune and Varanasi wear the same style of sherwani, speak Urdu, and eat biryani, the Pasmandas wear their local attire, speak the local language, and eat local cuisines. Why should the Arabic/Iranian culture be imposed on indigenous Pasmanda Muslims to ‘preserve their culture’ or in the name of Islam? Why pressure mango-loving people to eat dates? Why not talk about preserving the indigenous culture of the indigenous Pasmandas? There is a doctrine described in Islamic jurisprudence called ‘Urf’ that gives people permission to follow the rituals and customs of any particular region, with the condition that they do not violate the basic principle of Islam.
We also need to take note of the aspect of personal law highlighted in Majmua-e-Qawaneen Islami published by the Muslim Personal Law Board that declares inter-caste and inter-religious marriage as illegal for Muslims. This is in direct violation of the rights provided to all Indian citizens by the Constitution. Can any particular religion in a secular country compel any particular community to commit such an unconstitutional act?
It appears that, as always, the ruling class, the Ashraaf community, is creating a separate identity under the two-nation principle, the purpose of which is to protect their own personal hold on power and supremacy in the name of Islam and Muslims, for which the entire country, in general, and the indigenous Pasmanda Muslims, in particular, have been paying for a long time. The indigenous Pasmanda community will have to think again: Will India be governed by the Constitution or by Sharia?
The Pasmanda community, which accounts for about 90 per cent of the total Muslim population, is a big stakeholder society. So, in this case, taking the views of indigenous Pasmanda Muslims into account is critical. Interaction with only the elite ruling class of Ashraaf Muslims in the name of representation will not be enough. All political parties as well as the Modi government should clearly understand that in India, Muslim means Pasmandas too.
Dr Faiyaz Ahmad Fyzie is a writer, translator, columnist, media panellist, social worker, and physician by profession. Views are personal.
This article has been translated from Hindi by Ram Lal Khanna and edited by Srinjoy Dey.