AA Edit | Go slowly, with caution, on a common civil code

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

It is indeed desirable to have a uniform civil code, just like a uniform criminal code

Representational image

A politician cannot be faulted for taking up an issue which he thinks will benefit the country and the people at large, and for initiating a discussion on it. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi is very well within his rights when he tells people that India must have a uniform civil code: Article 44 of the Constitution says, “The state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”

However, questions will crop up and fears creep in when people assess the details of the Prime Minister’s suggestions. On the face of it, Mr Modi has a valid point when he says it is unfair to have one law for one member of a family and another law for another member of the same family and that a country cannot run in this fashion. But then he goes on to say that Opposition parties are misleading the Muslim community to set them against the government on the issue of the uniform civil code all for electoral gains. He buttresses his argument saying many in the Opposition had objected to the law criminalising triple talaq even while the practice has no religious sanction.

It is for Mr Modi to explain why he chose to refer to the Muslim community alone when he discussed the topic. How is it that the Prime Minister is so sure that when India introduces a uniform law, the majority community has nothing to worry about and the Opposition cannot manipulate it? Why does he presume that Muslims alone have an objection to such a law?

Mr Modi accuses the Opposition of playing vote bank politics. Of course, political workers are key stakeholders in a national discourse, but Mr Modi gives a religious colour to the subject at hand and then goes on to blame his opponents. That smacks of harbouring double standards in a matter of national importance.

It is indeed desirable to have a uniform civil code, just like a uniform criminal code, but the process of drafting it must consider the fact that we are a country that has followers of every major religion in the world.

One could presume that a uniform criminal law is a given, but the fact is that it is not. The Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, bars sexual relations between people aged below 18 years but poses a moral and civilisational question to a policeman walking up and arresting a boy in a tribal community who married a minor as per the conventions of his clan. The dictum “ignorance of the law cannot be an excuse to break it” can take on a different nuance in India, and that must be borne in mind when the Indian nation rushes to legislate on matters that govern the lives of its citizens.

A uniform civil code is our constitutional mandate and there is no backing away from it. There must be open and elaborate discussions on the matter, and we should crystallise the results in a form that would be acceptable to all. Politics, and especially vote bank politics, should be kept out of it, as the Prime Minister himself suggested.

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