news Monday, August 03, 2015 - 05:30
  The ruling NDA government is in the process of amending the Christian divorce law which seeks to bring uniformity in divorce laws among all religions, except Islam. An article in The New Indian Express touts it as “first step” towards introducing the Uniform Civil Code. The BJP had declared in its election manifesto that it would seek to implement Uniform Civil Code in the country. But is amending the Christian divorce law have anything to do with Uniform Civil Code? The Uniform Civil seeks to have uniform laws across all religions with respect to property, marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption and inheritance and the same has been enshrined in Section 44 of the Constitution, under Directive Principles of State Policy. The basic premise of those in favour of the code is that personal laws are gender biased, with unequal and discriminatory treatment towards women. The issue to change the Christian Divorce Law first arose in April this year, when a Delhi-based Christian - Albert Anthony - filed a petition before the Supreme Court urging it to amend Section 10A(1) of the existing Divorce Act, to bring it on par with other laws. According to the Act which is basis for divorce for Christian community, couples can submit a petition to dissolve their marriage by mutual consent only after a judicial separation of two years. However, in other Acts such as the Special Marriage Act, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955, and the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, the prescribed period of separation is one year before filing for divorce before the court of law. In July, a panel headed by Justices Vikramjit Sen and A M Sapre issued a directive to the government to bring uniformity in divorces across all religions. Following this, the government’s counsel informed the court in July that the Ministry of Law and Justice had initiated a proposal to amend the provisions in the Divorce Act which is applicable to Christians only. The NDA government formally put forth its stance in the Parliament when Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said “wider stakeholder consultation” was necessary to take the issue ahead. Supreme Court lawyer, Sanjay Hegde feels that due diligence must be exercised before tinkering with Personal laws associated with a community. “Personal laws are deeply personal in nature. Any government who wish to amend it, must take into account people’s religious sentiments to void any conflicts,” he says. Post elections, Firstpost had quoted Prime Minister Modi telling an Urdu daily as: “…I would like to make clear is that implementing a uniform code does not mean that all citizens of the country will be brought under the Hindu code.” Despite this, many feel that Code would be largely designed to fit the bill of the Hindus. Critical of BJP’s agenda is women’s rights activist, Kavita Krishnan, who feels that the issue needs to be decided in consultation with women’s groups and various communities, and not just by political leaders. “The discourse of BJP and the Sangh has been alienating. They have not publicly critiqued the Hindu Code Bill which has several negative aspects,” she says. Ironically, the Sangh back in the 1950s were steadfastly against Hindu reforms in contrast to the Congress government, led by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, which passed Hindu Code Bill in 1956 that covered laws concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance for the Hindus. The call for uniform laws arose once again in an iconic case in 1985 when Shah Bano was a 73-year-old woman who was divorced by her husband of 40 years and was denied alimony as there was no such provision in the Personal Laws. Shah Bano approached the Supreme Court which ruled in her favour, and this sparked the need of Uniform Civil Code once again. However, as the judgement received severe backlash, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi overruled the Supreme Court ruling by passing a resolution in the Parliament to appease the community ahead of the elections. Ever since, the Congress has maintained anti-Uniform Civil Code stand, a stance reiterated by Law Minister Veerappa Moily in 2011 stating that the UPA would not interfere unless there was demand seeking changes from the community itself. In spite of the long-standing history, the issue of amending the Christian Divorce Law does not appear to be a case of introducing Uniform Civil Code, says Hegde. While welcoming the directives issued by the apex court, Hegde says, “If there is a demand from a community to amend a particular law which seeks to improve the conditions, then it should not be a problem.” Krishnan declined to comment on the issue without studying the proposal, however, she said if it was intended to bring on par with other laws by decreasing the period for filing for divorce, she said it was a good move.  
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