Our criminal and civil laws are same for all the religious communities but our personal laws have been related and linked to religion. So there are separate laws for Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Ironically Jain, Buddhists and Sikhs are included in Hindus. As such the prevalent laws and norms among diverse Hindu communities have sharp variations. This was a primary reason why the Constituent Assembly debates decided to continue with the personal laws and left the issue for a later settlement. In the Directive principles of state policy Article 44. it was stated that the state shall try to evolve uniform common laws for all the citizens of India, irrespective of their religion. The aim was to bring these laws in consonance with the concept of justice.

At the same time former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called upon B.R. Ambedkar, the the Law minister, to work for a Hindu Code Bill whereby the diverse Hindu communities were brought under the same umbrella. The idea behind all this was that if a reform process was initiated amongst the Hindus, the largest religious community, similar efforts could be initiated for the minorities.Ambedkar formulated the Bill with the understanding that the prevalent laws at the time did not give equal justice to women. The draft Bill as it emerged was opposed by large sections of the Hindu community as it was too radical for the prevalent patriarchal norms. Later the Bill was diluted and implemented. The failure to carry through the Bill was a setback to the efforts of Ambedkar; he felt dejected and left the Union Cabinet.

The debate further came to the fore in the wake of the Shah Bano Judgment by the Supreme Court. Here, Shah Bano’s plea for maintenance after divorce was upheld by the apex Court. The conservative sections of Muslim society stood up to oppose this judgment. Buckling to the pressure the Rajiv Gandhi Government passed a Muslim Women (Protection of rights on Divorce) Bill, which bypassed the judgment. With this the Hindu communal forces took up the issue and called for a Uniform Civil Code.

The main point which was propagated on the streets was that Muslims are allowed to marry four times. The unstated understanding behind this was that because of polygamy the population of Muslims will overtake that of Hindus. In the real sense neither is the percentage of polygamy more among Muslims nor does polygamy lead to more children, as the number of children is restricted by the number of women.

Sections of Muslims, the Muslim leadership and organisation like the Muslim Personal Law Board co-related the demand for a uniform civil code to that of minority identity, and strongly opposed it. From within the Muslim community many women’s groups started campaigning for the gender justice and abolition of polygamy, triple talaq and such issues that were seen as discriminatory and unjust.

But because of the Muslim organisations hype, the focus of reforms came totally on the Muslim community and the need for reforms within the Hindus took a back seat in the popular imagination. While the communal forces talked of uniformity in law they neer produced even a draft that could provide a basis for this demand. Instead the issue was used to flay the minorities, with the central notion of gender justice missing entirely from whatever little debate and discussion that has taken place.

At the same time progressive women’s movements had also demanded the UCC, but having realized that most of the personal laws which are prevalent in the name of religion are unjust to women, they retracted and started talking about a Gender just code through the process of reforms within the communities.

So how will UCC come in? Will gender justice be the basis of uniformity? There is a notion that somebody will prepare the laws and these will be brought in, imposed on all the communities. This is a ‘top down’ approach. In the ‘bottom up’ approach the focus is on a reform process being encouraged in society, and the process being taken further and given the shape of law. The crucial point here is the process of reform within the community, a process based on gender justice.

Among other, the efforts of Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) in this direction are noteworthy. BMMA has collected 50,000 signatures for abolition of triple talaq. The idea here is to campaign and do the advocacy for such changes, get the laws made on these lines which will strengthen the hands of Judiciary in giving justice to Women in particular. It is campaigns like this which raise consciousness in society, and also act as a restraint within. In other words such campaigns create a ground that facilitates the delivery of justice, and makes it acceptable amongst the people who then do not see it as an imposition. The campaign for banning triple talaq is an important step in the direction of reforms based on gender justice.

It is apparent that right wing groups raising the decibels on the issue have no interest in ensuring gender justice. Their central agenda is to frighten the Muslim community. Here the crocodile tears of those posing to give justice to Muslim women are more than obvious. Gripped in the patriarchal mind set male dominated Muslim organizations also oppose the UCC as they do not want to give up their control over women and the family.

As such one should grant the point that an intimidated community gives secondary importance to issues of gender justice. Their primary concern is security and partly equity in social affairs. Self proclaimed Law Boards are gripped by patriarchal mindsets, and do not support the women who have been struggling for parity in the laws for decades now. The opposition to UCC comes mainly out to fear of intimidating communal politics, and the values of patriarchy which needs to be overcome.

There is also an argument that campaigns like abolition of triple talaq will open the door for Hindutva forces to bring in Hindu laws as UCC. That’s a tricky argument and does draw our attention to the dangers inherent in the demand for reforming the laws. Still one hopes that in current scenario to bring back the Hindu laws as UCC are unlikely as most of the Women’s groups have realized that the existing Hindu laws are nowhere close to giving justice to Hindu women. And so it is unlikely that such an imposition can take place in the more aware environment today. It is time that reforms in the community and gender justice become the base of our thinking in this direction.