Uniform Civil Code: How RSS and Hindu swamis fought tooth and nail the Hindu Code Bill
The BJP and Sangh Parivarhave been celebrating Talaq judgment of Supreme Court and claiming credit for liberating Muslim women from the male dominating Muslim society. But there was no evidence that they took any initiative for empowering Hindu women. On the contrary they took every possible step to stall a major initiative taken by our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nahru and our first law minister Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
It may be recalled that a draft Hindu code bill was introduced in the constituent assembly which incorporated several measures to empower Hindu women including their right to divorce. The moment they came to know the contents of the bill,RSS with the cooperation of other likeminded organisations launched a vicious campaign against Nehru and Ambedkar. What that campaign was and how they maligned both great leaders is described by eminent historian Ram Chandra Guha in his book India After Gandhi. Relevant contents from the book are being reproduced here:
Outside the Assembly the cries against the bill grew louder. Already in March 1949 an All-India Anti-Hindu-Code-Bill Committee had been formed. This held that that the Constituent Assembly has 'no right to interfere with the personal laws of Hindus which are based on Dharma Shastras'.
The Anti-Hindu-Code-Bill Committee was supported by conservative lawyers as well as by conservative clerics. The influential Shankaracharya of Dwarka issue an 'encyclical' against the proposed code. Religion, he said, 'is the noblest light, inspiration and support of men, and the State's highest duty is to protect it'.
The Anti-Hindu-Code-Bill Committee held hundreds of meetings throughout India, where sundry swamis denounced the proposed legislation. The participants in this movement presented themselves as religious warriors (dharmaveer) fighting a religious war (dharmayudh). The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh threw its weight behind the agitation. On 11 December 1949, the RSS organized a public meeting at the Ram Lila grounds in Delhi, where speaker after speaker condemned the bill. One called it 'an atom bomb on Hindu society'. Another likened it to the draconian Rowlatt Act introduced by the colonial state; just as the protests against that act led to the downfall of the British, he said, the struggle against this Bill would signal the downfall of Nehru's government. The next day a group of RSS workers marched on the Assembly buildings, shouting 'Down with Hindu code bill' and 'May Pandit Nehru perish'. The protesters burnt effigies of the prime minister and Dr Ambedkar, and then vandalized the car of Sheikh Abdullah.
The leader of the movement against the new bill was one Swami Karpatriji Maharaj. We know little of this swami's antecedents, except that he was from north India and appeared to be knowledgeable in Sanskrit. His opposition to the Bill was coloured and deepened by the fact that it was being piloted by Ambedkar. He made pointed references to the law minister's caste, suggesting that a former Untouchable had no business meddling in matters normally the preserve of the Brahmins.
In speeches in Delhi and elsewhere, Swami Karpatri challenged Ambedkar to a public debate on his interpretations of the Shastras. To the law minister's claim that the Shastras did not really favour polygamy, Swami Karpatri quoted Yagnavalkya: 'if the wife is a habitual drunkard, a confirmed invalid, a cunning, a barren or a spendthrift woman, if she is bitter-tongued, if she has got only daughters and no son, if she hates her husband, [then] the husband can marry a second wife even while the first is living.' The swami supplied the precise citation for this injunction: the third verse of the third chapter of the third section of Yagnavalkya's smriti (scripture) concerning marriage. He did not, however, tell us whether the injunction also allowed the wife to take another husband if the existing one was a drunkard, bitter-tongued, a spend-thrift, etc.
For Swami Karpatri, divorce was prohibited in Hindu tradition, while 'to allow adoption of a boy of any caste is to defy the Shastras and to defy property'. Even by the most liberal interpretations, the woman's inheritance was limited to one-eighth, not a half as Ambedkar sought to make it. The bill was altogether in violation of the Hindu scriptures. It had already evoked 'terrible opposition', and the government could push it through only at its peril. The swami issued a dire warning: 'As is clearly laid down in the Dharmashastras, to forcibly defy the laws of God and Dharma very often means great harm to the Government and the country and both bitterly rue the obstinate folly.'
Of course, not all Hindus were of the liberal party either. The reservations of the orthodox, as expressed in Parliament, were carried forward in the streets by the cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. They brought batches of volunteers into New Delhi, to shout slogans against the Hindu Code Bill and court arrest. Among their larger aims were the dismemberment of Pakistan and the unseating of Jawaharlal Nehru – as they shouted, 'Pakistan tod do', 'Nehru:Hakumat Chhod Do'.
The main speaker at these RSS-organized shows was usually Swami Karpatriji Maharaj. Addressing a meeting on 16 September 1951, the swami challenged the prime minister to a debate on the proposed bill. 'If Pandit Nehru and his colleagues succeed in establishing that even one section of the proposed Hindu Code is in accordance with the Shastras', said Karpatri, 'I shall accept the entire Hindu Code'. The next day, in pursuance of this challenge, the swami and his followers marched on Parliament. The police prevented them from entering. In the ensuing scuffle, reported a Hindu weekly, 'police pushed them back [and] Swamiji's danda [stick] was broken, which is like the sacred thread, [the] religious emblem of the sannyasis.'