02/01/2017 10:43 AM IST | Updated 07/01/2017 9:56 AM IST

A Uniform Civil Code Will Free Women From The Chains Of Inequality

Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

While a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) bears the potential to liberate Indian women from the religious chains that have bound them for centuries, those opposing it seem to want to keep the shackles intact.

Tufail Ahmad, a Muslim Indian scholar, released a12-point blueprint for the UCC in 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 feedback, the Law Commission is set to introduce its own draft UCC.

It is time to realise the immorality of forcing women — or anyone else — to live under laws that were as vile in the 7th century as they are today.

One group in particular, however, stands staunchly opposed to establishing a UCC. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) — a non-governmental organisation 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. 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.

Sharia-based laws, however, are not the only ones thwarting women's autonomy in India. Women in other 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 zeroes in on 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 does 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. A Uniform Civil Code would not only largely liberate Muslim women from the injustices that keep them a mere token, but would also bring about universal rights to education and freedom of speech, while prohibiting hate speech.

While many women throughout India are standing in support of a UCC, others are speaking out against it, claiming it would tear asunder their personal religious practices. In fact, The Times of Indiareported that Muslim women turned out in the thousands at a 21 October rally to protest the adoption of a UCC. Whether their opposition is perhaps influenced by forces such as the AIMPLB or by men in their lives is unknown, but it certainly seems counterintuitive to fight against being granted rights that would apply universally to all the citizens of one's country.

Sharia-based laws are not the only ones thwarting women's autonomy in India. Women in other religious groups also grapple with inferior treatment under their respective belief systems.

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.

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, a 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 realise 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.