Though the Dravidian, Left, Muslim and Dalit parties are against the Union government's attempts to enforce a uniform civil code, there seems to be a broad consensus – barring the Islamic parties – that there needs to be a reform of the Muslim personal law from within.
While underlining that a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country cannot have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ law, the parties say they don't agree with the BJP government’s initiative. It must come from within the Muslim community and not imposed by a party driven by Hindutva, they reiterate.
At a recent conference organised by the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) in Chennai, where Left, Dravidian and Muslim outfits came together to oppose a uniform civil code, DMK leader K. Kanimozhi echoed similar sentiments, underlining the contradiction in the BJP-RSS combine which, she alleged, has scant regard for women’s rights and equality, and advocating women empowerment and equality for Muslim women. She asked whether Hindu women don’t face oppression within the religion and community and what the BJP had done to alleviate it.
While those like Fathima Muzaffer, convenor, Sharia Protection Forum For Women, say that Muslim women do not need a uniform civil code and what they require is only security, education and economic empowerment, prominent lawyers such as Bader Sayeed, who is also a former AIADMK MLA, observe that this is primarily an issue about gender justice.
Asked to comment on how both the sides have debated the issue, Ms. Sayeed says that religion must not be invoked while talking about gender justice. “We must keep religion out of this. First of all, a uniform civil code is not going to be brought in tomorrow morning itself. And, have we not accepted the Domestic Violence Act and the Special Marriages Act as common to all already? A uniform civil code will not apply just to Muslims, but to everyone. If marriage is a contract, as they say, then how can it be annulled unilaterally?,” she asks.
Poet Salma, an outspoken member of the community, says that this is the BJP government’s effort to steer attention away from their failures. “Women all over India struggle to use and implement the laws that protect them. This issue has nothing to do with religion.''
She says that a common misconception is that Islam allows for triple talaq. Sections of Muslim men are misinterpreting the Islamic law. “Muslim women must form alliances with Muslim organisations, intellectuals and women’s groups so that they can reform this un-Islamic law from within,” she notes.
Ms. Muzaffer says that ‘talking about a civil code is just a waste of time’. Criticising the BJP government’s “new found concern” for Muslim woman, she says, “I wish he [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] had shown the same amount of concern when Muslim women were raped and killed in Gujarat in 2002 and when they are getting shot at with pellet guns in Kashmir.”