The government said on Friday it is committed to ending religious discrimination against women, criticising an influential Muslim body for “politicizing” the demand for uniform laws for marriage, divorce, property and inheritance in India.
Union information and broadcasting minister Venkaiah Naidu told reporters that a uniform civil code will be arrived at through a process of consensus, not haste, and urged everyone to keep politics out of the process.
“We have three basic issues: Gender justice, ending discrimination and upholding the dignity of women,” he said.
The comments came a day after the All India Muslim Personal Law Board attacked the BJP-led central government for triggering an “internal war” by trying to do away with Islamic personal laws.
The board said it will boycott a questionnaire circulated by the law commission that asked for comments on a uniform civil code and doing away with the Muslim practice of triple talaq, under which a man divorces his wife by saying the Urdu word for divorce three times.
But Naidu said the government – which has already opposed triple talaq in the Supreme Court -- will not back down and the process of consultation for UCC will go ahead.
“The mood of the country is that triple talaq to end. People don’t want discrimination against women,” he said.
“If you have a point of view, put it forward and enter a debate. Why drag in the prime minister’s name?”
He also asked people not confuse the triple talaq and UCC, saying these were separate issues.
India has separate sets of personal laws for each religion and demand for overhauling these codes date back decades. Critics say triple talaq, by allowing summary divorce, discriminates against women. But successive governments have backed away from any sweeping change for fear of upsetting crucial vote banks.
In recent years, many Muslim women have approached the judiciary and the apex court is hearing three petitions against triple talaq. But Muslims organisations see this as an attempt to tamper with their religious practices and have decided to boycott the consultation process.
The issue has also turned into a political war ahead of crucial assembly polls in five states – especially in Uttar Pradesh where Muslims make up more than a fifth of the population. Critics say the BJP is using the issue to drive a wedge between communities for electoral benefit.
But Naidu dismissed these concerns, saying uniform laws will be based on consensus and agreement within communities that needed to change with the times. “Nothing is going to be forced on other people.”
“As far as basic human rights are concerned, I don’t understand the objection. If you’re so interested in politics, join a party.”