Uniform Civil Code in Goa? Hindus, Christians spared but difficulties for Muslims

Difficulties faced by Muslims in Goa under the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The common misconceptions about UCC is that Hindus have surrendered their personal laws for the sake of uniformity throughout the country.

It is a great misunderstanding among the law-makers and also ordinary people that Muslims and Muslim women in particular are safe and secured under the Uniform Civil Code as practiced in Goa. Attempts are also made to set its example for implementation in rest of the country without properly analyzing the cases which were and are under trial.

Cases of marriage and divorce

As per the UCC law, registration of marriage is mandatory so that the marriage is recognized by the law and any issues relating to the marriage can be resolved through law. It seems justified to many that this is good for the benefit of the couple, especially for women, for it will be difficult to break the tie of marriage or at least if it takes place, it would be easy for women to claim their rights under law. But, as it is said that all that glitters is not gold, so is the case here. The difficulties which this law brings to the Muslims can be understood in the following context.

It should be noted that the Muslims consider the marriage to be valid when followed as per the religious norms. In such case, if after registration, the boy and the girl find themselves not fit for each other or if the marriage is cancelled due to any other reason,  they have to approach the court to annul the marriage which takes a couple of years, meanwhile they cannot marry elsewhere.

In case of husband-wife disputes, if counseling goes beyond the first year of marriage, they cannot separate before they complete five years and have to bear each other willingly or unwillingly and then after five years the case of divorce will be dragged in courts with counter accusations and by the time they get divorce, it will be too late for both of them. The small amount of compensation received at the end cannot compensate the loss of dignity, time, efforts, money and emotional torture that the couple has to bear during this time. There are divorce cases dragging for years and into a decade and more under this system.

Even if law does not grant divorce to the couple and forces the partners to live together, it cannot create love and understanding between husband and wife which is the foundation for a happy family. Children are the worst sufferers in this case. This makes them insecure, worried, and harms their ability to have a successful marriage and lead a normal life in future.

A loveless marriage makes an individual, whether man or woman, stressed in life and he/she cannot live peacefully as an active member of society. This stressful situation sometimes leads to suicides.

Those who get married with the selfish motives of hiring the assets of their partners and later on want to discontinue with the marriage without proving themselves as guilty in the court, adopt the means of torturing the partner in such a way that the other partner takes the lead in court proceedings and begs for a quick divorce, thus turning the case in favour of the culprit. If such divorce does not take place for some reason, untrustworthy and disloyal partners even tend to domestic violence or murder their partners framing it to be an accident like we have the cases of burning the wives in cylinder blasts.

Genuine problems arise in case the woman is religious and is strict follower of her faith and, as such, sticks to the law laid down by her religion and considers that to be final. The uniform civil code then becomes a hurdle to her for a better life. For example, the case of verbal talaq, which is not valid under UCC, leaves the woman isolated since now she cannot live with her husband as prescribed in her religion nor can she marry again since she is not divorced as per civil law.

Last but not the least, it has been observed that after dragging the case for years in the court, the matter is finally decided to settle out of court by mutual understanding or through paralegal services, which again fail to give complete justice to the victim. 

Ban on Polygamy

Polygamy, though not practiced by a large number of Muslims, is banned considering it to be a great injustice to woman who has to bear the pain of sharing her husband with another woman. But this has not solved the problem of wives and has opened up ways of more violence/injustice against women.

Those men, who are inclined to having relationships with more than one woman, are still engaged in it and with a greater freedom since they are relieved from the burden of giving them legal status of a “wife” with due rights, thus making the women objects of use-and-throw with no respect to their feelings, emotions, needs and honour. Such relationships have also increased the number of illegitimate children, thus destroying the social structure.

Ban on polygamy has taken away the right of a chronically-ill and sexually-disinterested woman to be in wedlock of a husband who due to these reasons contracts a second marriage while maintaining love, emotion, physical and financial support to his first wife. Due to the common law, either the husband has to satisfy his basic human need through illicit relationship spoiling the life of some other woman or divorce his sick, helpless wife and get married to someone else.

It also brings hurdles for young widows and divorcees with small kids to settle in their life who can be a choice of a married man as no bachelor prefers to get married to such women and as also due to the shortage of widowed and divorced men to be a perfect match for such women.

Inheritance law

Though there are equal rights for both men and women as per the civil code, it fails to bring about any change in the percentage of property held by women nor in their status.  It is not common that daughters fight for their share of the parental property. Even if they do, the law, in trying to give equal share, fails to even give them little. Also fighting for the property rights, a woman incurs the loss of her own assets and her cherished family relations.

The common misconceptions about the Uniform Civil Code is that Hindus have surrendered their personal laws for the sake of uniformity throughout the country and  that the four Hindu enactments made in 1955-56 have rectified all the evils of Hindu laws associated with the gender justice. Going through the four Hindu law enactments of 1955-56, one finds that specific provisions relating to the customs of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs, running counter to general statutory provisions, enjoy full legal protection under the provisions of the concerned Uniform Civil Code. Among the customs and customary institutions that remained so protected are as follows:

  1. Prohibited degrees in marriage and sapinda relations (Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, Sec. 5);
  2. Marraige-rites and ceremonies (Sec. 7);
  3. Right to obtain divorce without proper judicial proceedings (Sec. 291);
  4. Adoption of adult and married persons (Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, Sec. 10);
  5. Mitakshara Coparcenary Property (Hindu Succession Act,39 1956, Sec. 6);
  6. Joint family properties governed by Marumakkattayam nambudh and Ahyasandantana customs (Sec. 7);
  7. Properties held by Sthanamandans; and
  8. Specified impartible estates (Sec. 5(ii))

We can see the effect of these customary usages being maintained in Goa civil code too which allows Hindus the following:

  1. Limited polygamy has been allowed to Hindus and bigamy has been recognised to have civil effects.
  2. There are inequalities on issues of adoption and the rights of illegitimate children.
  3. When it comes to taking an oath in court, differences on the basis of caste have been accepted.
  4. Also there is no separation of the Church from the State. In the case of those who opt to solemnize their marriage in church, the Church can annul the marriage at the instance of one of the parties, as is laid down in church law.

Hence, where the personal laws of other religions are well secured under uniform civil code, it is not so for Muslims. In addition, often Muslim Personal Law is shown as defective and discriminatory and is believed to be blocking the implementation of the directive Article 44 of the Indian Constitution. The protagonist of uniform civil code project the issue in such a manner that the minorities, especially Muslims, feel that it is they who will have to sacrifice their personal law for the sake of Uniform Civil Code.

Also, whenever Muslim Personal Law is debated it lacks intellectual impartiality. Media reportage, academic analysis and often politician's viewpoints reflect the vested interests of those concerned. Despite all this, Muslims are silent because they have greater level of patience and tolerance and suffer silently.

The author is an administrator based in Panaji, Goa