Man made religion, a set of moral principles and ethical guidelines so that he could evolve into a better human being with the passage of time. In fact, a religious man would be considered cultured and highbrow. But every society needs some kind of reform with time (duh), for what was considered alright hundreds of years ago might not be desirable today.
For instance, in 12th century orthodox Christians would burn people alive at the stake so as to combat ‘heresy’. In ancient India, a Hindu widow would be compelled to immolate herself on her husband’s pyre under an obsolete funeral system, namely Sati. This savagery shockingly continued for several hundred years. The practice was in fact initially legalized by the colonial British officials specifying conditions when Sati was allowed.
Needless to mention, the real place of these barbaric, inhuman practices was in the dustbins of history and this is where they rest now.
However, would it have been possible if the society had refused to reform itself and evolve?
No religion in this world is perfect. Remember it was made by ‘man’ keeping in mind the ‘needs of the man’. The woman’s real place was in the kitchen, as a sexual object and slave, serving those needs of men, with no right to inheritance and property. She was supposed to quietly acquiesce to her husband’s multiple marriages, burn herself to death when he died and accept divorce on trivial grounds when her spouse uttered the word ‘Talaq’ thrice. How easy is it for some to break the nuptial bond and abandon their consorts at the drop of a hat? Talaq, talaq, talaq – that’s it.
Article 44 of the Constitution, which is one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, says: “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”
Polygamy could be a good thing for men, but for women it could have disastrous consequences. Imagine the plight of women who live on the whims and fancies of men with no protection from courts of law and society.
Men have two potent weapons in their hands thanks to their religious laws. First, they can marry up to four women as their Holy book allows it. Second, getting rid of their wives is duck soup for them thanks to the ‘Triple Talaq’ practice. And when the hapless women knock on the door of the courts for justice, the latter express their inability to provide succor to them citing the absence of a Uniform Civil Code.
With regard to polygamy, the Holy Quran states there are conditions that must be met, including treating each wife with justice, fairness and equality. But, who is going to ensure that the men do not misuse the rights granted to them? There have even been cases in India when Hindu men converted to Islam because it allowed them to commit bigamy.
Besides causing financial woes to the women, polygamy also makes them suffer from negative emotions like neglect, jealousy, depression, angry tantrums or even illnesses. This completely goes against the principles of gender equality. But when it comes to women’s rights the situation is more or less the same in the world.
Even the Constitution of the United States says, “All men are born equal,” while maintaining a conspicuous silence about the social status of the women. Therefore, seeking gender equality by doing away with discriminatory, obsolete social customs should not be seen as an attempt to curtail one’s religious freedom. Verily, we all should aim for equality for all human beings irrespective of their caste, creed, sex, religion and colour.
But this is not what happens in India when the issue of Uniform Civil Code i.e. a common set of laws governing personal matters for all citizens of the country, irrespective of religion, is raised. Currently, different laws regulate these aspects for adherents of different religions. All of these Hindu, Muslim, Christian laws need urgent reforms in view of rampant discrimination against women.
In fact, Article 44 of the Constitution, which is one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, says:
“The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”
So, when the Gujarat high court made a strong pitch for a uniform civil code on Thursday, calling for the abolition of polygamy in Muslim society in India as it’s a “heinously patriarchal” act, an apparently agitated Muslim friend of mine commented thus on Facebook.
“Muslims are polygamous. Keepers of four wives. Violators of human rights. Right? Despite being this, Muslims don’t have a widows’ Vindavan.”
First of all, this is not about your ‘religion versus my religion’. This is about women’s rights, gender equality, and humanity. When we say bring in the Uniform Civil Code, one must note the common law would be applicable on every Indian, irrespective of his or her religion. So where is the scope of religious discrimination?
Defending polygamy is akin to professing bigotry and misogyny. This is what Gujarat HC Justice JB Pardiwala said while adjudicating on a petition by a Muslim man who faced bigamy charges after marrying for a second time without his first wife’s consent.
“On the basis of modern progressive thinking, India must shun the practice (of polygamy) and establish a uniform civil code,” Justice Pardiwala said.
“If the state tolerates this law, it becomes an accomplice in the discrimination of the female, which is illegal under its own laws,” the judge said, adding that, “It’s for the maulvis and Muslim men to ensure that they do not abuse the Quran to justify the heinously patriarchal act of polygamy in self-interest… The Quran allowed conditional polygamy to protect orphans and their mothers from an exploitative society. But when men use that provision today, they do it for a selfish reason.”
One might be tempted to ask how a judge could question what’s written in a Holy book and call polygamy a punishable act. But what’s wrong in raising questions? What’s the harm in having a meaningful debate when what at stake are gender equality and women’s rights? Men cannot be allowed to continue inflicting injustice on women taking the shelter of their religion.
The idea is to protect the rights of the vulnerable sections of the society by having a common law for all citizens irrespective of their religions. Seeking gender equality does not tantamount to religious discrimination and appeasing Mullahs and Sadhus is not secularism.
Religion and state, both, need to work out ways to evolve from certain practices which were relevant at one point in time, however, rendered useless and socially insensitive to the citizenry at present. Religion has to be socially inclusive and it must address issues that divide, discriminate or inflict pain on a particular section, in this case, women. The state cannot be a mute spectator anymore to injustices meted out to women, children and minorities. It has to step up to the plate.
It’s time we understood this fact to a T.