This was first published on Jan-2007. How much has the situation changed?
What is this Uniform civil Code? Is it possible? Reasonable? Soon after Independence, Hindu inheritance laws were codified to give weightage to the females of the family. Later others ‘favoring’ women have been added.
Despite this codification, dowry continues. Daughters’ inheritance remains as dicey as when the Christian community battled for those rights in the Courts. Meanwhile daughters have already been made as responsible for upkeep of aged parents as their brothers.
Would the promulgation of a Uniform civil Code push the conservative elements off center stage and allow women their rights? Much of the focus has been on the "plight" of Muslim divorcees, especially victims of talaq, talaq, talaq.
In that community, the order of male relatives who must support the woman has been laid down. Whether they do so or not, is another matter altogether. But what of our Hindu women, rejected by in laws and parents alike, consigned to the flames, dead or alive? How many Muslim dowry deaths have been recorded to-date?
Will the Uniform Civil Code lay down an equitable formula for permissible quantum of dowry, whether presents, streedhan or plain and simple greed? Despite the Dowry act, and numerous fiery dowry deaths, giving and taking of dowry flourishes under official aegis, Prime Ministers and their Deputies attend lavish weddings and the TV routinely advertises goodies for the marriage of your laadli and insurance policies to pay for that. The dowry cancer has spread into the Muslims and Christians; now even into the North East where matriarchy was the norm.
Under the Uniform civil code, where will dowry go? Which customs will be adopted and promulgated as the All India Dowry Code; what then will happen to those auctions of civil services grooms, irrespective of caste and creed?
Another grey area is Marriage. Will a uniform civil code imply:
' equal rights for all the citizens of the country ? ' Hindu rights for all the men
OR, judging by the noise being made, 'Muslim rights for all men and the freeing of Hindu men from the onerous yoke of the Hindu Marriage Act that banned polygamy?’
Not that Hindu men have turned monogamous. Statistics reveal quite the contrary. A 1975 Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, indicated that during 1931-41, 1941-45, 1951-61, the percentages of polygamous marriages among Hindus stood at 6.79, 7.15 and 17.98 per cent.
Another 1961 census survey revealed that the incidence of polygamous marriages was found to be highest among the tribal communities ( 15.25%), Buddhists (7.97%), Jains 6.72%, Hindus 5.8% and Muslims 5.7%. Clearly Hindu men were giving their Muslim brethren a run for their money at the matrimonial stakes, irrespective of legislation and so-called social stigmas.
Social stigmas are an eye-wash, what with second marriages with the permission of the first wife, contract marriages in the form of Gujarat's innovative Maitri Karars and living-in, etc. It still remains to be seen how many marriages doomed by low fertility or male impotence will be saved by infertility cures and surrogacy.
Then Divorce: “What will be the All India Divorce passport?”
Now, the clincher:
If Indian men demand uniform rights in the number of legal wives, why shouldn't the ladies also claim similar rights, given the quality of manhood that survives?
To be truly uniform, the Civil Code must offer equal rights to all the citizens of India, irrespective of caste, creed or sex. That could also mean that women, like the men of India, will be entitled to four legal marriages. That is just one short of the Mahabharatian five of the legendary Draupadi, who is more of a role model for contemporary Indian women than the sanctimonious Sita and her copious tears. After all, like Sita, Draupadi also followed her husbands into the obscurity of the forests for 14 years, a favorite number of our epic writers apparently.
Draupadi was smart enough not to fall into enemy hands, need to be rescued at great expense to health, life and limb; yet the pre-historic equivalent of a World War is attributed to her, instead of the vain egoes of both the Pandavas and the Kauravas; this renders her non-too-popular with the Maryada Purshottam lobby.
When the Indian republic was founded on the premise of bringing under one umbrella all the myriad cultures and sub-cultures in the Indian peninsula, the slogan was "unity in diversity".
Why now this assiduous search for Legal Strait Jackets in Marital Matters?