Govt says no to Shariat

The Bharatiya Janata Party government seems to have adopted a gradualist approach regarding the implementation of a uniform civil code. On Friday, it opposed the Muslim practice of triple talaq, saying that “gender equality and the dignity of women are not negotiable.” In its submission before the Supreme Court, the government described the controversial practice as “misplaced in a secular country.”

In this context, three facts need to be mentioned. First, the Indian Constitution has emphasized the desirability of uniform civil code. Article 44 says, “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” Second, the BJP has been demanding the uniform civil code since its inception in the early 1950s.

And, third, the BJP has never taken up its so-called key issue—something that differentiates it from other parties—of common civil code when it is in power. In his six years in office, Atal Bihari Vajpayee never even tried to implement it. Even Narendra Modi, supposed to be a Hindu icon, never took up the subject even though almost half of his term is over.

Instead, the Modi regime is apparently shifting the onus on the judiciary. The government is empowered by the Constitution which implores it to “endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code.” But the government does not want to raise hackles among orthodox Muslims, liberals, and Leftists. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has already informed the Supreme Court that personal laws cannot be re-written in the name of reforms.

So, the government has let the Supreme Court respond to the demands made by private citizens. When the apex court asked the government’s views, it said in an affidavit, “Practises like triple talaq are against the principles of equality and dignity enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Validity of polygamy and triple talaq should be seen in the light of gender justice.”

The affidavit also hinted at the conflict between the Constitution and Shariat, the Muslim law that Islamists want to be imposed all over the world. The affidavit said, “There is no reason that women in India should be denied their constitutional rights. The sanctity of triple talaq under the Sharia law is completely misplaced in a secular country and is unfair, discriminatory, and unreasonable.”

The government’s contention is absolutely correct. Legislation regarding personal, social, and civil matters of a community cannot be in contravention of the basic principles of the nation’s Constitution. Some liberals and reformists point out that certain Muslim practices triple talaq and female genital mutilation have not been prescribed in the Quran, the holy book of Muslims. But this is beside the point, for even if something is prescribed in the Quran can be permitted in India only if it is in consonance with our Constitution.

Muslims implicitly accept that triple talaq and polygamy are not essential principles of Islam. This is evident from the fact that millions of them live in Western countries where Shariat is not accepted for civil matters. So, if they can live without Shariat in the US, the UK, and Australia, why not in India?

Further, why do orthodox Muslims talk only about the civil aspect of the Muslim law? Why not amputation of limbs as punishment for theft along with polygamy? If you are so rigid about Shariat, why not accept it in toto?

The government’s response to the apex court is commendable. It should stick to it and expedite the implementation of a uniform civil code.