The initial Directive Principles and State Laws on livestock, BJP’s nationwide ban, and then finally Supreme Court’s decision to lift the ban. BJP’s aim to bring a Uniform Civil Code in India and then implementing the beef ban, is UCC a tool for solidifying the Hindu social order especially in regard to the cultural hegemony of the country?
Unity in Diversity
India is a culturally rich nation-state, deriving its various eccentricities from many religions and communities present in the country and also from the ones which it came in contact with. There are various forms of languages, customs, dance, music, religions, food and even architecture associated with different places in the country, spread over a vast region, among over one billion people. It is safe to say that ‘unity in diversity’ has been one of the most important pre-independence principles in all our endeavors as a collective and conscious community. Without unifying ourselves towards a common goal (the example here being Independence from the British Empire) there couldn’t have been a way for India to have attained independence. The various regions, religions, food habits, classes and castes of people involved in the Independence movement right from the Revolt of 1857 to the eve of Independence in 1947 do not resonate in history. What resonates is what they did, despite having different gods, different languages, different upbringings, different castes – they freed a nation that has today made an impact in the world in terms of its rapidly growing economy and its technical forte.
The Preamble to our Constitution states that we are a ‘sovereign socialist secular democratic republic’ and yet when this constitution was being written down, our forefathers authenticated separate laws for separate people, mostly on account of their religions and their gender. Necessary changes have routinely been made to keep different stratifications of the population happy and providing them with the freedom to pursue their lives in the way they deem perfect (Muslim Personal law or Personal laws for women like the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971).
Uniform Civil Code
India does not have a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), and we put down on paper that we are a secular nation. Uniform Civil Code would be a common code that would connote the idea of a similar set of civil rules irrespective of religion, caste, sex etc. The soul of the constitution is embedded in justice, liberty, and equality of all citizen thereby ensuring solidarity and dignity of the individual and unity & integration of the nation. The makers of the Indian constitution were of the opinion that a certain amount of ‘modernisation’ needs to take place before a UCC can be imposed upon Indian citizens.
The main reason we don’t have UCC is that of the diversity of our population. We have Muslim Personal law which is the religious law contained in the Quran and which deals with marriage, succession, inheritance and charities. We have Personal laws for women regarding abortion, dowry prohibition, domestic violence etc. We also have Hindu Marriage Act which applies to any Hindu by religion and also to Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. It is also applicable to any person in India who is not domiciled and doesn’t identify as a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew by religion. It is very important to keep in mind that all our fundamental rights are the same, and we have separate laws on the basis of religion and that these separate laws come into play only in personal lives.
Post-independence UCC was a highly debated topic, its proponents included the likes of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, supported by other eminent nationalists like Gopal Swamy Iyenger, Anantasayam Iyengar, KM Munshiji while it was also heavily opposed by Muslim fundamentalists like Pocker Sahib and also by people from other religions. Since it was such a sensitive issue, the founding fathers of the Constitution placed it as a directive principle. Post independence, in 1955 when Nehru thought of codifying these personal laws, it was obstructed by orthodox elements as they promoted the practices of monogamy, divorce and equal division of property between son, daughter and widow and changed the rules regarding adoption and maintenance of wife. The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) was the first party to promise a UCC if chosen to power. UCC has been in BJP’s Manifesto since 1998. And yet today, when the party has control of the Central Government religious atrocities are soaring high.
The majority population of the nation is of Hindus, but there are also people in this country who are Dalits, Muslims, Christians and from other minorities. Minorities in a country with a population of 1.3 billion are not minorities, but millions of people. They belong to different states in different parts of the country. It’s a vast nation and cultural differences can be found every 50 km or so, in terms of languages or dialectics, in terms of clothing, in terms of kinship relations like marriage, in terms of education, and in terms of food habits, which we are going to be focusing upon in this essay.
On may 26th 2017, a nationwide beef ban was imposed by the BJP and has been a routine topic of debate ever since. The Supreme Court of India which is the highest judicial body in the nation suspended the beef-ban in July 2017, but the ripples of the ban can still be very clearly seen all throughout the country in the various forms of debates, violence and vigilantism. The origin of laws and rules regarding cattle slaughter and sale can be traced back to pre-independence India. However, such laws have been under state jurisdiction since independence.
- BJP is the party supposed to be rooting for UCC. Here what they wanted to make uniform was a belief that we shouldn’t be engaging ourselves in the sale/purchase, slaughter or consumption of cow meat. While this may resonate well with the majority of the population, there are still millions of people who intake beef or are economically affected by it on a regular basis. This really makes one question about how they picture introducing UCC in India.
Majority of the Indian Hindu population does not consume beef, except in states where the laws are more relaxed, wherein everyone consumes beef on a regular basis. Christians, Muslims and Dalits are the common consumers and traders in the cattle consumer or production industry and are of late, subjected to vigilante attacks and other forms of exploitation. There are vigilante attacks happening all across the country in the name of cow protection and people are being killed and attacked. The shutting down of animal markets, which are the traditional workplace for the meat industry, wherein about 90% of the trading takes place has tremendous effects on a lot of jobs. 2.5 million jobs are directly tied to the meat industry, and most of these jobs are held by either Muslims or Dalits, as people from higher castes do not engage in such jobs. There’s also three times higher loss of jobs in the leather industry. Farmers are also affected by this as they are no longer able to sell their ageing, unproductive cattle, due to there being no market for it. Since there are states where cattle slaughter and sale is more relaxed, traders often transport their cattle across state boundaries, in order to find a slaughterhouse or a place to sell their cattle. In several states where there exists a prohibitory law on cattle slaughter or sale, the violation of those laws are cognizable and non-bailable offences. The term of imprisonment varies from 6 months to 14 years, and the fines can go up to ₹5,00,000.
The loss of freedom in terms of food practices is a completely different and more moral rationale but the economic loss of millions of people is what bothers most people. Their livelihoods were taken away and deemed illegal in one single stroke of the pen right before major Elections in the states comprising a large number of Hindus. None of us needs to be campaign experts to realise the motive behind this move. The motive becomes even clearer when a spokesperson of BJP from a relatively minority population dominated state clarifies “ it (beef ban) will not be imposed in the northeastern states. Livestock is a state subject. It is up to the states to decide “. Livestock has been a state subject since we attained independence and since the formation of our Constitution.
“The State shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.
(Part IV.—Directive Principles of State Policy.— Arts. 48A—51.)
[48A. The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wild life of the country.]”
If livestock is under state jurisdiction, then why introduce a nation-wide beef ban, and that also only to discredit the ban later in states where beef consumption is more regular and state elections are going to come up? Is this how they imagine they are going to bring UCC in India? By imposing hegemonic practices for all, rooting them on religious or personal backdrops and dividing the nation on personal choices? Today its food, tomorrow it could be anything else. Think about it, the sex ratio of the country is 943 females to 1000 males. If we were to allow for Dowry to made mandatory by a nationwide ultimatum, by the Central Government, because there are more men in the country, on top of Constitutional provisions already provided for in this area, just because there’s going to be more men voting, would people buy it? This would be inequality in terms of gender rights, just like the beef ban is an inequality in terms of religious rights. We have had separate laws for separate groups of people in the nation since the formation of our constitution, we also have separate state laws, and all of them have been passed into resolutions to integrate this vast population into one nation-state. The motto of Unity in diversity has been an enigma guiding all our constitutional amendments and provisions. How can we let a Central Government that is rooted in Hindutva decide what is permissible and what isn’t, timing it all according to state elections, irrespective of the consequences of their actions? More importantly, why are so many people agreeing to these unfair practices? Does the idea of freedom in terms of faith not exist? Why drag personal differences originating in religion to the forefront of politics? Does UCC in India by the BJP mean that Hindu hegemony will be the guiding principle?