Amid Udupi hijab controversy, demand for Uniform Civil Code grows stronger

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Shortly after Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister of independent India, there were reinvigorated hopes to modernise our economy and introduce social reforms, which were earlier not possible under the British Raj. It was important for a civilisation that had endured centuries of humiliation with the Mughal invasions and British rule to break free from the shackles of colonialism and forced servitude. To everyone’s surprise, in retrospect, one of the priorities for the Indian National Congress (INC) government was to codify Hindu practices, in an attempt, perhaps in their vernacular, to civilise the Hindu population.

It would perhaps be a bit harsh to mete out a certain degree of compulsive criticism on our part towards the then Nehru administration. Why? Perhaps because India was still healing its fresh wounds that were caused during the painful Partition of the country. Secularism became a necessity, as it reflected upon the pluralistic vision that our freedom fighters had for the newly born republic. But, the resistance arrived from unexpected quarters, when Rajendra Prasad led a public banter against Nehru in opposition to the attempted codification of Hindu practices. Nehru’s fundamental belief was that progress must be achieved, but not at the cost of compromising a community’s customs and traditions.

File image of Jawaharlal Nehru. News18 Hindi

It’s a pity that it took us so long, but these beliefs need to be held accountable for. Nehru’s beliefs were rather unfounded in the sense that he believed that the way to secure the interests and well-being of minorities rested in the introduction of the codified Hindu laws which protect Muslims and Christians from protracted majoritarianism. For those few who are not aware, the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) finds its way in Article 44, in part IV of the Constitution, which mentions that it is the state’s responsibility to ensure UCC’s implementation.

A notable exception is Goa which continues the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867 even after its integration with India and the law binds all the Goan domiciles under the same set of civil laws. Goa, a state that perhaps has a higher dividend of the minority population in comparison to the national average, has been comfortably administered under the provisions of the Uniform Civil Code. It has its shortcomings, but it has set a precedent for the rest of the country to follow suit.

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Despite protests from certain Muslim fundamentalist organisations, the Sharia Act has not been extended to Goa. The choice of wearing a hijab/burqa must indeed rest with the ordinary Muslim women. But an ambience to allow free thinking and choice to be exercised must be created, failing which most “choices”, like the one in Udupi, will be an outcome of a patriarchal pressure to force women to uphold certain beliefs that the Muslim male may consider Islamic.

Without a blink of an eye, any political observer will conclude that the watershed moment for the Congress’ minority appeasement was during the historic Shah Bano case. The minorities in India, especially the Muslim community, have been cultivated as a vote-bank by certain parties that thrived on their ‘secular’ credentials. It led to nothing but further ghettoisation of the community, where patriarchal practices like triple talaq and polygamy were accommodated and not questioned.

The hijab controversy — completely avoidable — lays further emphasis on the need for a Uniform Civil Code in the country. This incident, with shadowy political players enabling it from the background, has not just put the education and careers of innocent young women at risk, but also upset the possibility of reforms within Muslim society. A choice that is exercised with free will is the one that holds good, not an event that is a making of the media where the girls are employed as nothing but cannon-fodder to boost TRPs. This has come under the scrutiny of the international media, with certain channels dubbing it as Narendra Modi's hand-made mandate for the minorities. Those designing such sinister patterns have a larger game plan in mind.

Indian Muslims must remain vigilant and not give in to such obvious banalities that we’ve seen in the recent past, whose main aim is to slander and defame India’s international image. Education is the only liberating force that will free these young women from the shackles of patriarchy. Personal laws can’t and should not have overreaching powers that go beyond the jurisprudence of our Constitution.

The fact is India that is Bharat has always been a pluralistic society; it gave sanctuary to all and every community that faced persecution across the world. Our civilisation has inherited these worldviews and values since two to three millennia ago. India, as reiterated by a senior Congress leader, is the only country where the Jews have not faced a single case of anti-Semitism. We pride ourselves in the exhibition of such tolerance and acceptance of foreign cultures. If we were to examine certain practices through a 21st-century lens, some seem regressive, outdated and archaic. A few Hindu practices too, are no exceptions. But more importantly, we have embraced reforms, from Adi Shankaracharya to Swami Vivekananda, all of them have toiled to upgrade our belief systems to facilitate the social changes, wherever need be.

With inputs from Ratnadeep Chakraborty

The author is a multilingual actress who recently starred in ‘Bhuj’ and ‘Hungama 2’. She established Pranitha Foundation, a NGO focused on education, healthcare and crisis relief. Views expressed are personal.

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Amid Udupi hijab controversy, demand for Uniform Civil Code grows stronger
Amid Udupi hijab controversy, demand for Uniform Civil Code grows stronger
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