It Is About Women: Debating the Violence of the Uniform Civil Code – Kartik Maini

This is a guest post by KARTIK MAINI

The performative art of choice, like most habitations of discourse, is deeply political. To oppose the mythical creature of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), as heralded by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and its parent votaries, is to find oneself in the august company of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMLB); both part, or so I must argue, of the same physics of power. Once again, if one does indeed trace the history of debating the suttee in what is now called the ‘colonial’ period, the spectre of representation (or lack of) haunts us: women are merely the grounds of debate, and the female body a site of contestation in the name of faith. As creatures of active agency, the figure of the woman disappears – not into a pristine nothingness, as Gayatri Spivak cautioned us, but into a violent shuttling of displaced figuration. It is, therefore, time to ask of ourselves the fundamentality of thought. What is the politics of rendering unintelligible the variegated nature of religious traditions and their pronouncements unto ‘uniformity,’ particularly so through the rationale of national integrity in a time when supposed dangers to the same are declared seditious? Is it not our collective responsibility to be virulently against the employment of the expressed and expressive agony of women to insidious political ends? What, finally, of those who lie at the interstices of ‘men,’ ‘women,’ and the compulsory heterosexual matrix?

Even in precluding Shayara Bano’s infamous claim on the immediate necessity of all, especially Muslims, to say ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai,’ the communal in the demand for the Uniform Civil Code is an effortless inscription. For one, the Hindu Code, which seeks the creation of uniform laws governing all Hindus, is itself not so – embedded in its semblance of pervasive homogeneity is heterogeneous pliability to the customs and traditions of different communities, as also the restriction in its uniform applicability to social groups that are now designated as the Scheduled Tribes. While Article 44 of the Indian Constitution exhorts the nation state to create a ‘uniform civil code’ for all, the Constituent Assembly had no perspectival clarity on what it would look like; B.R. Ambedkar elucidates that such a code ‘need not necessarily be mandatory.’ In fact, beyond the obvious ambiguity of Article 44, the glorious prospect of the Uniform Civil Code only finds silence, and in not being addressed in specificity, is subsequently regaled with the obstructions of political autonomy, detailed as they are in the articles and schedules on Kashmir, Nagaland, Mizoram, Assam, Tripura, and Meghalaya. In other words, the binary between the Uniform Civil Code and communalism, between Hindutva and the mythical uniformity that must now be forged against this ‘problem’ of diversity is a fundamentally false one – there is no independent discursive existence of the Uniform Civil Code, if the circular ruins of its debate are to tell us anything, besides its violent deployment against the personal laws of the Muslim community, Muslims in particular, and as it may now be said, against the idea of India in general. The indivisibility of the undivided Hindu family, tangential, if not absent, as it has been to the contention on the Uniform Civil Code, is a loud, almost resounding declaration of its essential purpose; to collapse unto its exercise the subjective agency of the patriarchal paradigm of ‘women’ collapses its very structure.

In a strongly worded missive, Noorjehan Safia Niaz of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) expounds, ‘We condemn the attempt to politicize the debate by mixing up of the abolition of triple talaq – the demand for whose abolition we strongly reiterate, with the move by the Law Commission seeking views from the public on the Uniform Civil Code. These are two separate issues, and should not be treated as similar.’ Of the many meanings that azaadi has now taken, this statement of the BMMA is instructive in the difficulty of politics: as Muslim women today stand at the altar of the supposedly emancipatory modern state, complete with its accompanying structures of governmentality, their courageous struggle against the maulana-headed jamaats has reached a befitting crescendo. ‘The court is our jamaat,’ they declare, in Jyoti Punwani’s eloquent piece. Truly, the progressive thrust of judgements as Shamim Ara v. State of U.P.(2002) has faltered in its promise of remedying the inscription of subordination in the Muslim personal law, and revolution, as we know it, is in the offing. It is not my case, or, for that matter, of progressive groups that are now in the line of fire for having ‘lost the plot,’ to stand against this calling, indeed, this making of history. But history is replete with its uncomfortable lessons. It tells us tales of progression hindered by violent appropriation, of causes obfuscated by the malevolent reasons of statecraft, and of representation that fails to present its subjects. To struggle against the patriarchy of laws, then, is a struggle of its own, and therein is the opposition to the Uniform Civil Code. Historians are forgiving. History, and we need not search too arduously, is not.

Yet, appreciating the struggle that asks of the state must not presuppose an unproblematic depiction of the state itself. Indeed, if the state legitimises, then it must also render illegitimate. Such has been the case of a people who are, in a very particular expression of otherness, called the queer. Even as the Indian state, in all its time of being a modern, independent republic, debates the realm of the personal, it is our collective ignominy that what is debated as the personal eludes the queer. It is a denial, not merely of recognition, but of personhood. As the queer have sought to enter state registers of legitimation, they have had to confront the always already heterosexual nature of kinship; the governmentality manifest in personal laws and cultural politics, a totalising pontification of the compulsory heterosexual matrix, the violent institution of marriage, and, invariably, of monogamy. To queer the question of personal laws, even of the infamous Uniform Civil Code, is thus to challenge their fundamental premise: the systematic, seamless reproduction of heterosexuality, patriarchal relations, and above all, of violence. Is not, then, the making of queerness a simultaneous unmaking of how we debate the personal?

[Kartik Maini is at St Stephen’s College, Delhi]

2 thoughts on “It Is About Women: Debating the Violence of the Uniform Civil Code – Kartik Maini

  1. tu

    Let there be a debate on what should be in UCC and let the Law Commission do its work. UCC will not be brought over night. If there are issues with it when it is enacted approach the courts for remedy. Let the SC decide on triple talaq and other issues before it while the Law Commission works on UCC. There is no time bound program on UCC which in any case has to be debated and passed by the parliament. I see no reason in opposing UCC per se. UCC can be amended and modified based on experience. But opposing it wont take us anywhere.

  2. Karan

    If India wishes to be taken seriously when it calls itself a secular state, UCC seems like the logical way to go. You cant have legislation based upon religious dogma and then call yourself secular. The author deliberately casts the triple talaq issue as opposed to the the UCC and attempts to paint this as some sort of attack on the Muslim community.

    Abolishing triple talaq is just the first step towards achieving a truly secular polity; UCC is next. Either bring UCC or stop calling India secular. Cant have it both ways.

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