Tuesday, May 2, 2017

India - Religion, Rights, and Uniform Civil Code

Two modern nation states were born on the night of 14/ 15 August 1947 - India as a secular democracy and Pakistan as an Islamic state. Pakistan came in to being based on the tireless campaigning of Mr Jinnah who was able to convince the Muslims in India, as also the British, on Hindus and Muslims being two nations with irreconcilable differences and thus had to be governed differently. To this end, he worked tirelessly to rejuvenate the Muslim League and was instrumental in convincing the Muslims on the need for a separate homeland that was based on religion. His rational can best be understood from his own speech delivered in March 1941; relevant portion reproduced below. 

"The only solution for the Muslims of India, which will stand the test of trial and time, is that India should be partitioned so that both the communities can develop freely and fully according to their own genius economically, socially, culturally and politically. The struggle is for the fullest opportunities and for expression of the Muslim national will. The vital contest in which we are engaged is not only for the material gain but also for the very existence of the soul of the Muslim nation".  

Mr Jinnah's belief that Islam alone can be the binding force for any modern nation where-in each individual, and community, can flourish economically, socially, culturally and politically was tested immediately after independence, with continued strife and fighting between members of the same religion, over and above that with people from other religions. His belief was finally shattered when the people of East Pakistan established an independent state of Bangladesh. In case religion could be the binding glue to people living peacefully, then Iran-Iraq war would not happen. Religion only provides for the advancement of an individual in his own personal spiritual realm, and that too only if he so desires. Religion has nothing to do with the society or nation to which the individual belongs. The society or nation is governed by the Constitution and its established governing structures and institutions. Societies/ nations have to be governed by 'rule of law'.

Human beings are comforted in their personal lives by their belief systems but feel at peace living in a society that provides some stability and peace in their day to day living. In case religion could provide peace in the day to day life of ordinary people, then no person would have immigrated to Europe or North America; they have migrated there due to the relative stability & peace out there due to the stringent and uniform application of rule of law, with the added possibility of advancing financially and socially too. The continued migration out of the middle East is proof that humans value stability, peace and advancement over religion, in their governed life in a society/ nation. Religion governs only the personal life of any thinking individual. 

Religion, I believe, is a very personal matter between a human and his Creator. We may follow the same religion but we will still not have the same perception of our Creator, because we all have an independent mind. This is so even if we follow the same rituals and are fed the same mythology too. Rituals and mythology comprise the kindergarten and nursery of religion and help us to develop faith, and nothing more than that. However, the actual crux, or philosophy of every religion is well past all this. The actual philosophy of every religion point to the same goal or pinnacle, and I believe once we actually reach to the pinnacle all paths seem to lead there from any number of directions, based on one's own perception, preference and practice. I firmly believe that religion and the affairs of a modern secular nation-state are not compatible, in as much as each of its citizens are different and diverse in thought and belief. 

A modern nation state like India needs to have a uniform application of rule of law to protect the rights of every citizen. This was envisaged by our secular Constitution too, but was not enforced at that time probably due to the very violent nature of the partition of the country, on religious lines. The Hindu code bills that effect the major part of the population of independent India were passed in the 50s, despite strong opposition from within and outside the government. The minority community reforms were not pursued with equal vigour, it seems as a measure of pacifying the insecurity of the minorities. It was felt that the lead for the same would come from within the enlightened members of the community. This has not happened. As a matter of fact the minorities in India have gone more regressive with the years, even if we compare them with other Islamic nations, let alone secular democracies. India is a secular democracy and needs to treat each of its citizens equally with regard to law, irrespective of personal beliefs, belonging, sex, position, birth, etc.

The founding fathers had, through the Directive Principles, directed the state to enact a Uniform Civil Code in due course. This has not happened even after over six decades of our existence as a Republic. Our constitution guaranteed every individual the fundamental right to freedom of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship in his personal life, but every citizen had not been given uniform treatment as a political entity of the state, where-in rule of law applies uniformly to every citizen. 

This needs to done with sarv samiti through education, discussion and debate. The enlightened members of the minority community need to step up to the task of creating conditions for the implementation of a uniform civil code. The triple talaq case is being fought in the Supreme Court, which has on 03 May 2017 appointed Mr Salman Khursheed as a 'nyaya mitra' (friend of justice) to advise the court on the community and other legalese. This is probably a case that will help India move a step closer towards equality before law, of all citizens, irrespective of sex. Equality is an idea whose time has come because religions do not provide political stability and peace and also because certain provisions in religions are time and geography centric; they are not amenable to universal application in real world situations, through the ages, and advancements in human civilisations. Certain provisions in religions need re-interpretation of the context and contents of the worldly teachings; purely philosphical teachings in any religion are not time sensitive, and may be followed by each individual as per belief. Society/ nations have to keep pace with the changing times as also the advancement of human thought and action. Stone age laws of a particular region cannot apply in the globalised and nuclear, information age. What then is the best way forward?

Individual freedoms must be guaranteed equally to all citizens through application of a uniform rule of law irrespective of position, region, religion, caste, creed, sex, status, or any other human differentiating attribute. The removal of lal battis is a step in the right direction. Every step that will remove the entitlements bestowed by birth or belonging, etc. would be a step in the right direction, as every citizen aspires to equal treatment politically. Every political party in India needs to work towards bringing about equal citizenship and rule of law in our country, if the spirit of our enlightened Constitution is to be upheld. People are now better informed than ever before. Any party that does not honour this ideal of equal citizenship will be punished by the people through the ballot box. It is never too late to change, and start working 'for the people'.