The Law Commission has made some interesting recommendations in the last few days. First, it said that a uniform civil code (UCC)—that would end religion-based personal laws—is neither desirable nor feasible at present. It has also recommended that legislative steps be initiated to end bigamy among Hindus, drawing attention to the fact that there have been instances of Hindus converting to Islam, as bigamy is permitted under Muslim personal laws in the country. That this happens despite the law being clear that if a man’s first wife continues to practise and profess the faith other than Islam under which their marriage was solemnised, then the second married is invalidated despite the man converting, shows how different personal laws are put to subversive use. The law panel believes that, instead of UCC, the effort should be to establish equality within the frameworks of personal laws of each community, by working on ending discriminatory laws within such frameworks. Banning instant triple talaq, decriminalising adultery and easing divorce for both genders could be thought of as such moves.
While, on the face of it, the law panel’s recommendations seem progressive—it talks about difference is not always discrimination, rather indicates robustness of democracy—the fact is there are definite political overtones. The law panel is an advisory body. What is needed of it is to look at the merits and problems of having UCC over the current system and advise the government accordingly. The political effort to generate momentum for implementing a recommendation, should the government accept it, is the remit of the government of the day. The law panel’s recommendation seems to be at odds with academics, policy-makers and civil society representatives of diverse political persuasions who have backed the idea of a uniform civil code for India. Cultural diversity that the law panel seems to be batting for must be upheld, but not at the cost of encouraging discrimination against women, with personal laws providing cover for this.