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Uniform civil code: Law Commission will steer clear of Muslim marriage laws

The commission firmed up its stand days after the Supreme Court admitted pleas to examine the practices of polygamy, nikah halala, nikah mutta and nikah misyar .

india Updated: Mar 30, 2018 10:58 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Law commission,Supreme Court,UCC
This file photo taken on November 4, 2016 shows Muslim women at a rally to oppose the Uniform Civil Code (UCC).(AFP FILE)

The Law Commission of India, the country’s top law advisory body, which is working on a draft Uniform Civil Code (UCC), will steer clear of most personal laws relating to Muslim marriage and divorce so as to avoid a conflict with the Supreme Court, chairman Balbir Singh Singh Chauhan said on Thursday.

The commission firmed up its stand days after the Supreme Court admitted pleas to examine the practices of polygamy, nikah halala, nikah mutta and nikah misyar . The last three are different types of temporary contractual marriages.

“How can we touch what is sub judice? The effect of the Supreme Court’s decision will be binding upon us,” Chauhan, a former judge of the top court, explained. He said the commission would, however, still examine Muslim personal laws “relating to adoption and succession”.

The commission has till the end of its term in August to submit its report on the UCC while the SC admitted the pleas on March 26.

The commission’s decision effectively means that it will not deliberate on the most politically contentious and hotly debated personal laws. The Shah Bano case in 1986, after which the government brought in a law to negate the effect of an SC judgment awarding maintenance to the plaintiff, triggered the debate over the constitutional allowance for different communities to follow their personal laws with regards to marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption and succession.

Hindu family laws were modified in the 1950s but those for the Christians and Muslims are colonial-era relics.

Activists have long argued that Muslim personal law, which has remained mostly unchanged, contains provisions that are unfair to Muslim women, often victims of polygamy and the triple talaq system.

Senior advocate Kamini Jaiswal described the commission’s decision as a setback for making personal laws more equitable for women. The UCC has been a long-standing poll promise and ideological position of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but many minority groups have opposed it because they see it as an effort to erase their cultural and religious identities.

In June 2016, the law ministry sent a reference to the commission asking it for an in-depth examination of “matters in relation to the Uniform Civil Code” and whether the time was ripe for bringing it in.

The commission issued an appeal on March 19 asking stakeholders and the public at large to send in their suggestions and comments on the issue of the UCC. The appeal also said that suggestions related to triple talaq should be excluded because a bill to criminalise the practice of Talaq-e-biddat or instant triple talaq is pending in Parliament. The deadline for writing in to the commission ends on April 6.

An official involved in the process who asked not to be identified said a “large majority of the responses” to a questionnaire circulated by the commission in October 2016 pertained to Muslim marriage and divorce issues. Most political parties opposed to the BJP rejected the commission’s exercise to seek responses, calling it a part of the ruling party’s political agenda.

HT reported in December that the commission could stay away from coming up with a comprehensive code but instead make recommendations for faith-specific changes in the laws of different communities to usher in reform.

First Published: Mar 30, 2018 08:39 IST