TRIPURAINFO

SECULAR STATE IN A RELIGIOUS COUNTRY:

Shilajit Kar Bhowmik

The Narendra Modi-led BJP government's move to abolish 'triple talaq' has been liked and lumped alike. A considerable section interprets the abrogation as interference with personal laws of a particular community. While a section by the yard interprets the effort to secure the rights of Muslim women my opinion  on the issue differs. Minor squabbles which often evolve into major brawls between a married couple in every household irrespective of religion, caste, creed or race is commonplace. You'll certainly have differences of opinion with your better half regarding household issues should you choose to live in a mundane world. But it is unjust to divorce your spouse instantly and trouble familial peace. I iterate it is a completely secular opinion and I would be intolerant of religious debates on this issue. Uniform Civil Code, the issue which has gained wide currency over the past few years is more contentious. However, debates over it ensued in the days of yore in political as well as private circles. 

This was few years after India achieved independence. The country's first Law Minister Dr. B R Ambedkar sought to codify Hindu laws and thus, introduced the 'Hindu Code Bill'. Enacting the Hindu Code Bill was a very tall order as heterogeneity of views supervened. A sizeable quarter of the opposition argued in favour of a Uniform Civil Code. Whereas, there were supporters of Ambedkar's bill as well. For example, a Parliamentarian Indra Vidyavachaspati said, "I do not believe that only Hindu women are oppressed. By passing the bill in its present form the state would give encouragement to the evil of communalism. If it was not made applicable to all sections of the populations, the feeling of communalism will arise and what should have been a boon will turn into a curse."

On the contrary, another Parliamentarian Thakur Das Bhargava said, "While I admire those who want to have one civil code for the whole of India, I do not think it would be a practical proposition to have one Civil Code for Muslims, Christians, Jews etc.

Hence, Parliament became a battle royale. Heated arguments reached a crescendo.

The bill soon became a talking point outside Parliament as an ascetic named Swami Karpatriji Maharaj shepherded the agitation. On 16 September 1951 the ascetic challenged the Prime Minister over a debate on the proposed bill. Thus, the monk threw down the gauntlet. He said, "If Pandit Nehru and his colleagues succeed in establishing that even one section of the proposed Hindu code is in accordance with the Shastras, I shall accept the entire Hindu code."

The next day, the Swamiji marched towards Parliament along with his disciples. The police blocked their entrance and a violent kerfuffle ensued.

Owing to relentless imbroglio revolving around the bill, it ultimately lapsed. Ambedkar was deeply aggrieved by this failure and voluntarily resigned in October 1951.

A few days later, India's first general election was held. An ascetic who led the Anti-Hindu-Code-Bill Committee named Prabhu Dutt Brahmachari was fielded against Nehru in the constituency of Allahabad. Brahmachari canvassed with the agenda of non-interference with Hindu tradition. However, Nehru clinched a spectacular victory. His stand was vindicated. The opposition was wrong-footed.
The Hindu Code Bill was revived but in broken parts. Those dealt with Hindu marriage and divorce, minority and guardianship, succession, adoptions and maintenance.

The Hindu Mahasabha lawyer N C Chatterjee argued, "If this was indeed a secular state, what was the need for a 'Hindu' Marriage and Divorce Act? Why not make the same law apply for all citizens? Thus, if the government honestly believed in the virtues of monogamy, that 'this is a blessing and polygamy is a curse, the why not rescue our Muslim sisters from that curse and from that plight?'
The putative socialist leader J B Kripalani agreed."You must bring it also for the Muslim community. Take it from me that the Muslim community is prepared to have it but you are not brave enough to do it," said Kripalini.

However, his consort Sucheta stated, "We know the recent past history of our country. We know what trouble we have had over our minority problem. That is why I think the Government today is not prepared to bring one Uniform Civil Code."
Her concluding remarks were rather prescient as the Government of the day is close to success.
"But I hope the day will soon come in the future when we shall be able to have one," was the remark.

Perhaps, the day has arrived.

Once French writer Andre Malraux asked Nehru about his greatest difficulty since India's independence.
The Prime Minister replied, "Creating a just state by just means."
Then he added, "Perhaps, too, creating a secular state in a religious country."

                                                                                                                            

 



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