The government’s request to the Law Commission for a report on the uniform civil code comes on the trail of many related developments over the past several years. Last year the Supreme Court had said that divorced Muslim women were legally entitled to maintenance from their former husbands under Indian law. The Supreme Court had also nudged the Centre, asking it to take a quick decision on the code. Before that, in 2011 the Delhi High Court had turned down a Muslim man’s appeal that he could not be compelled to pay maintenance to his former wife because the law in question did not apply to the Muslims.
These developments are to be seen in the overall context of the Constitution’s Directive Principles of State Policy, which enjoins upon the State to have a uniform civil code. The BJP, which is in power at the Centre now, has been making this demand for nearly 30 years. But there are some issues connected with this. When the Constitution came into force, while separate electorates were abolished in pursuance of the goal of national integration, enough safeguards were kept for protecting religious and linguistic minorities and their religious and cultural rights. With that in view, successive governments at the Centre remained aloof from this. Another thing to be kept in mind is that having the uniform civil code does not concern the largest minority, the Muslims, alone. There are communities that have their own civil laws and customs on marriage, divorce, adoption, maintenance and succession.
But now there are visible signs of change, with advocacy groups of various religious communities asking for a uniform civil code. About 200 Muslim men, including the film personality Resul Pookutty, have lent support to the demand of 50,000 Muslim women that the triple talaq system of divorce be rescinded. In doing so, they have lent support to an organisation called Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, a Muslim women’s advocacy group, which is campaigning against triple talaq. This proves that Muslim men and women have entered an area that was the happy hunting ground of public intellectuals. The government, however, should move cautiously in the matter because this is after all a touchy subject and so can be emotive.