Sunday, March 23, 2014

State Vs Religion - Why India is not a Secular Country

Article 44 of the Directive Principles of India makes the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (hereafter referred to as UCC) the duty of the State. But since Independence, nobody has managed to implement it. Not just implementation, but our very narrow and limited vision does not see the urgent need of separating religion from state.

Broad aspects of the UCC are as follows –
  • ·         Marriage
  • ·         Divorce
  • ·         Inheritance
  • ·         Adoption
  • ·         Maintainence

What the UCC seeks to do is to remove all religious laws pertaining to the aspects above and bring in ONE UNIFORM law that shall have no basis in religion.

Foe e.g – in marriage, we have the Hindu Marriage Act 1955, The Indian Christian Marriage Act 1872, Muslim Personal Law 1937 and if one chooses to marry in an irreligious fashion; the Special Marriage Act 1954. The UCC directive of the Indian constitution seeks to replace all these with one standard law to govern all religions. What this would do is separate religion from state. Why do we need it? Because religion fails to take morality into account. Religion is obsolete and immoral when it comes to legislation. A widely used example is the Shah Bano case. Quoting wiki -

“Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985 SCR (3) 844), commonly referred to as the Shah Bano case, was a controversial maintenance lawsuit in India, in which Shah Bano, a 62-year-old Muslim, daughter of a police constable and mother of five from Indore, Madhya Pradesh, was divorced by her husband in 1978 but even after winning the case at the Supreme court of India was subsequently denied alimony because the Indian Parliament reversed the judgement under pressure of Islamic orthodoxy.”

In essence, Islamic Law has limited provisions for the protection of women’s rights in a divorce. Amendments to this law have provided for a lump sum to be paid as protection but that too needs a lot of reform in how said lump sum is calculated and how this law could be effectively implemented to begin with. In fact; under Islamic Law divorce can be unilateral (decided by the man with no say for the woman). Shah Bano was denied lawful alimony and maintanence because of religion (In this case Islam).

The UCC seeks to replace all these archaic laws with laws based on morality. The Hindu and the Christian set of laws have their own idiosyncrasies too and the UCC seeks to replace and uproot them just as much as any other religion. An example is the case of Roop Kanwar in Rajasthan. She was a Rajput woman who was immolated as late as 1987 after her husband’s death and then hailed by idiotic Hindus as a “sati mata” or a “pure woman”. Though 45 people were charged with this crime, only 11 were booked and those too were acquitted in January 2004.

In actual fact and in my personal opinion, the UCC should not only dissolve and uproot religion from the aspects (marriage, divorce, adoption etc.) mentioned above but also apply to ALL laws of the land. Religion and State should be completely separate. In a modern and enlightened world, we need to see the harm that religion is doing and keep it out of governance and administration. Reservations and quotas are another huge example of how religion has subverted the judicial and the legislative systems of India and has ruined meritocracy in almost all aspects of our lives; right from admissions to colleges to government jobs to even the private sector (which Nandan Nilekani is rooting for so loudly).

India is not really a secular country. We just pretend to be. With most of our laws having a basis in religion, there is no point in calling India a secular country. Secularism is a word that is so misused in India that it has lost all meaning whatsoever. Let us analyze what it really means.

Sec·u·lar·ism  [sek-yuh-luh-riz-uhm] – noun.
·         Secular spirit or tendency, especially a system of political or social philosophy that rejects all forms of religious faith and worship.
·         The view that public education and other matters of civil policy should be conducted without the introduction of a religious element.

Note the glaringly obvious fact – Secularism DOES NOT mean appeasing any particular religion over another. That is idiocy. Secularism DOES NOT mean quotas. That is plain myopic. Secularism DOES NOT mean treating all religions equally. That is common sense. What secularism DOES mean is that religion and state needs to be separated. It means that religion has NO PLACE in administration, governance, law-making and ANY aspect of implementation thereof. We seem to have forgotten that in our rush to be proclaimed secular. What secularism currently means is nowhere close to what it was intended to be by our founding fathers. Going by the etymology of the word itself; the meaning has been subverted in our very minds.

We need to realize how this pseudo-secularism is hurting us and bring in an overhaul. Not just by implementing UCC in law but in our own behavior on a day-to-day basis. By realizing that religion needs to be kept behind closed doors. Our social conduct with our fellow men needs to be devoid of religion. Devoid of prejudice and devoid of the currently narrow and myopic thought-process all of us employ.

A small step in that direction will be the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code.