Just imagine the scenario in 1955. The nation had been independent for just eight years. Parliament functioned for five years. The Kashmir problem was already giving a headache to the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. There was so much to do for the country after nearly 300 years of colonial rule. He had his hands full.
Yet, he thought of attempting codification of Hindu rituals and customs as part of his reformist vision. The process had already begun in the Constituent Assembly. A select committee had been formed to draft a new Hindu Code to systematise social practices. The orthodox elements violently opposed this and recommendations of the committee could not be made into a law.
But Nehru was convinced about it and brought in the Hindu Code Bill in 1955, which gave birth to a host of legislations including Hindu Marriage Act, 1956. When the debate was raging on the Hindu Code Bill in Parliament in May 1955, a valid question was raised by many members including J B Kripalani, that is, why only codify Hindu rituals and customs and not those of Muslims?
The response from Nehru and his law minister was that Muslims were not ready for reforms. Ridiculing this argument, Kripalani had said, “It is not the (Hindu) Mahasabhites who alone are communal; it is the government also that is communal, whatever it may say. It is passing a communal measure. I charge you with communalism because you are bringing forward a law about monogamy only for Hindu community. Take it from me that the Muslim community is prepared to have it but you are not brave enough to do it. It is not the Hindu voice that is raised against the Prime Minister of Pakistan for having married a second wife. If you want to have (provision of divorce) for Hindu community, have it; but have it for the Catholic community also.”
Poignant words, weren’t they? He accused the Prime Minister of lacking in courage to bring in reforms by codifying the Muslim law.
Exactly 50 years later, the Supreme Court delivered the Shah Bano judgment, applying the secular provision of Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code to rule that Muslim women could not be allowed to be rendered destitute by denial of maintenance by their husbands citing the customary laws of the community.
But, as time passed, the Supreme Court continued to rule — in 2001 in Danial Latifi case, in 2007 in Iqbal Bano case and in 2009 in Shabana Bano case — that Muslim women could not be deprived of the benefit of Section 125 of CrPC. The December 4, 2009 judgment is most categorical. It said, “Even if a Muslim woman has been divorced, she would be entitled to claim maintenance from her husband under Section 125 CrPC after the expiry of the period of iddat as long as she does not marry.”
So, after 63 years of Independence and 60 years of the Constitution, our political leadership has not been brave enough to introduce reforms in the social practices of Muslim community. Ironically, Article 44 of the Constitution says, “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code (UCC) throughout the territory of India.” Sadly, none of the governments — from Nehru to Manmohan Singh — had the courage to attempt UCC, and that too after repeated admonition and expression of anguish from the SC.
In Sarla Mudgal case, the SC said in 1995, “Where more than 80% of citizens have already been brought under codified personal law, there is no justification whatsoever to keep in abeyance, any more, the introduction of uniform civil code for all citizens in India.” Yet again in 2003, in John Vallamattom case, the SC highlighted the desirability of achieving the goal set by Article 44 of the Constitution. But the same Nehruvian argument continues, the Muslim community is not ready.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------कोई भी मूल्य एवं संस्कृति तब तक जीवित नहीं रह सकती जब तक वह आचरण में नहीं है.