The Indian state of Uttarakhand has moved forward with a controversial law purportedly meant to unify and simplify its legal code regarding marriage, family, and other personal relationships. However, the critics say that has little to do with standardising the legal system and more about attacking religious minorities, particularly Muslims.
While the Uniform Civil Code, on paper, is designed to protect the country’s secular identity, the fact that its only major backer is the Hindutva-advocating BJP suggests that it is really meant to elevate the already-dominant majority. It is no coincidence that almost all of the practices that carry jail sentences are common only among low-caste Hindus, Muslims and other marginalised religious groups, while a few unusual practices of the majority have been allowed to continue. Muslim divorce procedures, for example, have now become criminal offences, as has polygamy, but it is still legal to ‘adopt’ a child without any registration. It’s because some Hindu groups opposed its criminalisation, even though it opens the door for child trafficking and related heinous crimes.
The Uniform Civil Code also has significant privacy implications. Although it is legal for unmarried couples to cohabitate, the new code included prison sentences for unmarried couples who live together but fail to inform local authorities of the relationship. Breaking up and moving out without notifying it to the government also carries jail time. These clauses also apply to people from Uttarakhand who live anywhere in the rest of India.
;Under the new law adopted by the 10 million-strong Himalayan state, unmarried women are also entitled to maintenance if “deserted” by their live-in partners, which also concerns activists as it makes another benefit of marriage redundant. The government claims that these rules are meant to protect women from domestic violence, but activists note that anti-domestic violence laws are already in place and don’t require such personal details.
Experts are of the view that the Indian Supreme Court may soon have to rule on the Uniform Civil Code, and privacy-related sections that appear to conflict with the court’s definition of privacy. However, the top court has also historically favoured secular laws over religious ones, so the clauses offending Muslim groups are likely to stay in place, meaning Hindutva leaders will still (mostly) get their wish.
Source: Dawn news