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India’s UCC Will Liberate Women From Shackles of Inequality

A number of women oppose the UCC because they believe that it impinges upon personal religious beliefs.

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While India’s recently proposed draft Uniform Civil Code (UCC) bears the potential to liberate women from the religious chains that have bound them for centuries, those opposing it seem to want to keep the chains intact.

Tufail Ahmad, a Muslim Indian scholar, released the 12-point document on 30 November in an unprecedented move meant to spur discussion on equality for all Indian citizens. Early in October, the Law Commission of India distributed a questionnaire to glean public input on the matter, pointing out within the text that Article 44 of the Indian Constitution specifically calls for such an effort. After collecting the feedback, the Law Commission is set to introduce its own draft UCC, according to The Times of India.

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Snapshot
  • UCC bears the potential to liberate women from oppressive religious beliefs.
  • Allegations that the UCC focused too much on Muslims and not other religions are baseless.
  • Women who follow other religions also face inferior treatment in their respective faiths.
  • UCC will be a major boon to women and the oppressed everywhere in the country.
  • Women speaking out against the UCC is counter-intuitive.
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A Number of Muslim Personal Laws Threaten Women’s Rights

One group in particular, however, staunchly opposes the establishing of a UCC. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) — a non-governmental organization Ahmad has termed an “anti-equality movement” that should be outlawed — denounces the effort, painting it as discriminatory by stating that a UCC would treat India’s various cultural groups as one homogeneous population instead of acknowledging their differences.

More specifically, the AIMPLB claims a UCC would strip Muslims of religious freedom and therefore called for a boycott of the Law Commission’s questionnaire, alleging that it focused too much on Muslim laws and not on other religions.

A leader in the fight for women’s rights in India, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), responded to the boycott with a vow to ensure that all Muslim women throughout the country have the opportunity to make their voices heard via the questionnaire, according to The Times of India.

Central to the BMMA’s efforts, along with other women’s advocates in India, is the eradication of triple talaq, which allows Muslim men to divorce their wives instantly and without legal intervention by saying, “talaq” — meaning “I divorce you” — three times. The practice, which persists in India despite it being outlawed in a number of other Islamic countries, would be prohibited by law under a UCC.

Triple talaq is not the only threat to women’s rights in India. Their struggles for equality are myriad, with Muslim women also facing issues surrounding child custody, alimony and polygamy, among others.
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Other Religions Also Have Oppressive Beliefs– UCC Would Be a Major Boon

Sharia-based laws, however, are not the only ones thwarting women’s autonomy in India.

Women in other prevalent religious groups throughout the country — including Hinduism, Christianity, Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism and Zoroastrianism — also grapple with inferior treatment under their respective belief systems.

Therefore, the dissenting voices from the Muslim community saying the proposed UCC is targeting their religion alone are simply not paying attention to the larger picture. The very fact that the proposed UCC was drafted by someone from within the Muslim community refutes any claim of discrimination from other religions or belief systems. In fact, a large faction of Muslims in India do not consider the AIMPLB their pratinidhi (or representative).

Indeed, the UCC would be a major boon to women and the oppressed — including gays, for example — everywhere in the country. The draft — which many assumed would never come to light — would not only largely liberate Muslim women from the injustices that reduce them to mere objects, but also ensure universal rights to education and freedom of speech, while prohibiting hate speech.

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Women Fighting Against UCC is Counter-Intuitive

While many women throughout India support the UCC, others are speaking out against it, claiming it would interfere with their personal religious practices. In fact, The Times of India reported that Muslim women turned out in thousands at an 21 October rally to protest the adoption of a UCC.

Whether their opposition is influenced by forces such as the AIMPLB or by men in their lives is unknown, but it certainly seems counter-intuitive to fight against being granted rights that would apply universally to all the citizens of one’s country.

The AIMPLB’s considerable influence poses a significant threat to women and the oppressed, because its sympathies lie with the subjugation of women that is found in Sharia law. The group exists to protect Sharia law from the laws of India that promote democracy, fair say and equality for all people.

In doing so, they not only encroach on the rights of women and non-Muslims, but also on the rights of other Muslims who do not adhere to the Sharia-based outlook.

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Women are not the only ones threatened by this worldview. Those who prescribe to more extreme interpretations of the Quran look down on nonbelievers of Islam as worthy of abuse and unfair treatment by those engaged in the Sharia-Islamic lifestyle. Under such an interpretation, man is allowed to defraud, harm and even kill those who are different from him.

When one considers the extreme viewpoints of the AIMPLB, the necessity of a UCC becomes even clearer. Safeguarding against the oppression of women — or any other group, for that matter — is tantamount to maintaining the largest democracy in the world.

It is time to forever remove the chains of antiquated ideologies, and in doing so, begin to realize the immorality of forcing women — or anyone else — to live under laws that were as miserable and vile in the 7th century as they are today.

(The author is an Indian-American born in Mumbai to a Muslim family and raised in India and the United States. She is a writer, a women’s rights activist and a physician entrepreneur and can be reached @drdeebabedi.)

(This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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