India's move to end religion-based laws 'not desirable'

Religious leaders support Law Commission's recommendation that a uniform code should not be implemented
India's move to end religion-based laws 'not desirable'

Law Commission of India chairman B.S. Chouhan addresses a press conference in New Delhi on Nov. 24, 2017. The commission recommends the retention of religion-based personal laws. (Photo by IANS).

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi
India
September 6, 2018
Religious leaders have backed a recommendation by the Law Commission of India that the federal government should not proceed with a move to replace religion-based personal laws with a uniform code.

The government's efforts to have a single code to govern marriage, divorce and inheritance for all Indians, regardless of their religion, "is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage," the commission said in its latest report.

"It's a welcome move — something that we have all been asking," said Catholic lay leader A.C. Michael on Sept. 4.

He said Christian leaders met commission chairman B.S. Chouhan and other senior officials twice last year to express disagreement with the move for a uniform civil code.

"They seem to have taken our views seriously," Michael said. "A common code sounds very desirable but is not practical nor necessary in India. We are culturally different and are fine following our own customs and laws. What is the need of change?"

He said the biggest issue for Catholics would be to accept divorce, which the church officially does not recognize.

In its Aug. 31 report, the commission said: "A unified nation does not necessarily need to have uniformity."

Religion-based laws currently govern marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption for Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis. However, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains follow laws applicable to Hindus.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that runs the federal government, and Hindu groups associated with it, have been demanding the abolition of faith-based personal laws that have existed in India since colonial times.

Muslims, who comprise 14 percent of India's 1.2 billion people, are also opposed to the idea of a common code as it would not include Shariah-compliant laws they follow now.

Moulana Tahir Madni, an Islamic cleric and scholar, said the imposition of a uniform civil code would undermine religious laws and make minorities insecure.

Suravaram Sudhakar Reddy, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, also welcomed the commission's report. "The law would have hurt the sentiments of millions if implemented on the ground," he said.

Abrar Reyaz, a law student at the Central University of Kashmir, said the commission had put speculation to rest.

"India is a place of vast diversity with people of different cultures, traditions, religions and tastes. Majoritarianism will surely backfire. The observation by the commission must be an eye-opener for the ruling party," Reyaz said.

However, BJP activist Manish Sharma said that developed countries such as France, Germany and the United States have a uniform civil code for people of all religions.

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"It would be unnatural to have people governed on the lines of religion and allowing women to get exploited and robbed of their basic rights," Sharma told ucanews.com, indicating that divorce laws followed by Muslims are biased against women.

A uniform civil code would mark a significant shift from regressive, patriarchal values that prevent India from evolving as a society, Sharma said.

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