While India now prides itself for its democratic ideals, making it the largest democracy in the world, it still struggles with balancing its incredible cultural, language, religious and ethnic diversity by not providing a common framework of laws to allow both men and women equal rights. I have witnessed different religious sites side by side; common occurrence bears testament to religious cooperation. With less than a month of living in India, I wondered how challenging it is to govern such a diverse country and what the implications are for women to live in this country where religious and cultural practices take precedence over laws created by the pluri-religious government.
This inequality, which is largely targeted towards women worldwide rather than men, is usually deeply seated in the culture and society of a region or country either through cultural practices, religion, or ideology. Much of the gender inequality in India can be closely tied to religious practices of the region. Since India is composed of so many religious communities, there currently is vigorous debate about whether or not a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), a set of drafted secular codes that have yet to be shared with the public (Naiz et al. 2017), should be implemented. The UCC would allow the Indian government to govern all of its citizens under one code regardless of their religion; it would include standard, basic rights for marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption and inheritance (Sarkar 2017).
The background of the personal laws and UCC are closely tied to the colonization of India by the British Empire. When the British arrived in 1611 to expand their trade, they quickly realized that if they intended to maintain their powerful hold on India they could not interfere with religious practices (Vijayakumar 2017). Thus, this allowed each religious community to create its own personal laws and regional laws that applied to a person in a specific situation, all based on religious beliefs and practices. These restrictive laws revolve around marriage, inheritance, divorce and other aspects, and result in women being treated as more of a commodity than as human beings. These legal laws maintain India’s strong patriarchal and religious society, which further disempowers women even in the 21st century (Komath 2013).
The Shah Bano case is the prime example of a case where an implemented UCC would have allowed for more equitable treatment of a woman and a more rapid conclusion. The ruling of this case conflicts with that of other non-Muslim Indian citizens, as no umbrella code exists to protect Muslim women. In this case, the wife was divorced by the husband but went to court when her husband refused to pay financial support. The courts ruled in her favor when she was considered as a regular Indian citizen. However, under the Muslim personal laws, laws that are based on Muslim sharia and mostly deal with family law, the husband didn’t have the obligation to pay her alimony. Since the court had no law backing up their decision to provide the wife with maintenance, the legislature created the Protection of Rights on Divorce Act for Muslim women in 1986. In addition to Muslim personal laws, there are Hindu personal laws, which cover Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Christian personal laws. Considering a secular code would take precedence over these varying personal laws, this type of conflict would not occur and would provide equivalent protection to all women, regardless of the religion they follow.
Every citizen should have a unifying set of laws no matter what religion they belong to because everyone should be protected by the government, especially those that are more vulnerable in the current system. To move forward on developing and implementing a UCC, the government and legislators should frame this issue as an economic one rather that an attempt to change an individual’s religious beliefs. By creating a more equal and safer environment for women, they can contribute more to their family’s income and wellbeing. The successful implementation of a Uniform Civil Code would greatly improve the treatment of and benefits for women; however, policies should not end there since more reforms are necessary to gain true equality in society. The government should develop programs to educate more females and to help them participate in society in a way that is more visible to the general public, as this would signal a change in power and authority to all parts of society.
For a different point of view: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/ajaz-siddiqui/why-a-uniform-civil-code-will-be-a-disaster-for-india_a_22106433/
Komath, Rajesh. “Religion as a barrier in women’s empowerment.” The Hindu. November 18, 2013. Accessed September 12, 2017. http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/religion-as-a-barrier-in-womens-empowerment/article5364865.ece.
Niaz, Noorjehan, and Zakia Soman. “Laws for women, not against Muslims – Times of India.” The Times of India. September 08, 2017. Accessed September 13, 2017. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/laws-for-women-not-against-muslims/articleshow/60433232.cms.
“Personal laws and the Constitution.” The Hindu. December 01, 2016. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/Personal-laws-and-the-Constitution/article16074921.ece.
“Religion.” Census of India: Religion. 2001. http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/religion.aspx.
Sarkar, Subhadeep . “Uniform Civil Code for India – A need of the Hour. The World of Juristic Policy, February 2017, 200-15. February 2017.
Sharda, Ratan. “True secularism demands a Uniform Civil Code – Times of India.” The Times of India. September 11, 2017. Accessed September 16, 2017. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/true-secularism-demands-a-uniform-civil-code/articleshow/60455808.cms.
Siddiqui, Ajaz. “Why A Uniform Civil Code Will Be A Disaster For India.” Huffington Post India. May 28, 2017. Accessed September 12, 2017. http://www.huffingtonpost.in/ajaz-siddiqui/why-a-uniform-civil-code-will-be-a-disaster-for-india_a_22106433/.
“The Hindu: The Shah Bano legacy.” The Hindu. August 10, 2003. Accessed September 12, 2017. http://www.thehindu.com/2003/08/10/stories/2003081000221500.htm.
Vijayakumar, Vasanthi. “Madras and the British Raj: Vestiges of Madras.” Presentation at Madras Christian College International Guest House, Chennai, India, 31 August, 2017.