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Looking at reform of family laws across religions, not uniform civil code, says Justice B S Chauhan

“Gender discriminatory practices such as maitri karar, nata pratha and polyandry among Hindus also need to be examined,” said Chauhan.

Written by Shalini Nair | New Delhi |
November 16, 2016 12:32:01 am
Justice B S Chauhan,  Law Commission of India,  Law Commission of India controversy, uniform civil code, reforms, gender equality, Maitri karar, Maitri karar law, supreme court, indian express news, india news, odisha high court Justice B S Chauhan

Clearing the air on the controversy surrounding the Law Commission of India’s recent ‘Questionnaire on Uniform Civil Code’, Chairman Justice B S Chauhan has said the commission’s aim is not to recommend imposition of a uniform civil code but look at reform of family laws across all religions, mainly with gender justice in mind.

“We are looking at the codification and reform of all family laws. We are not looking at a uniform civil code. People have misconstrued it (the questionnaire) as one law for everyone. It doesn’t mean that everyone must follow the Hindu ritual of saptapadi (seven steps around the fire) for their marriage to be valid,” he said.

“Gender discriminatory practices such as maitri karar, nata pratha and polyandry among Hindus also need to be examined,” said Chauhan.

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Maitri karar allows married men in Gujarat to enter ‘friendship deeds’, allowing them to live with women other than their spouse; while nata pratha, practised in states such as Rajasthan, allows a man to sell his wife.

Chauhan, a former Supreme Court judge who has served as Chief Justice of the Odisha High court, said this was the first time the commission had elicited mass public opinion on a matter since it felt that all stakeholders must be heard. He said the commission would examine everything to ensure that personal laws in matters of marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance are in keeping with Article 15 (no discrimination based on sex, religion etc) and 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution.

He clarified that the commission is not opposed to triple talaq as outlined in the Shariat (Muslim law) but is against the practice where the word is uttered thrice by the man immediately, ending the union. “We are not concerned with triple talaq that is done as per the Shariat over a period of a few months, allowing time for reconciliation and mediation and observation of iddat period. We are only against the practice of instantaneous and spontaneous talaq.” The validity of the latter practice, known as talaq-e-bidat, is currently being examined by the apex court while hearing the Shayara Bano petition.

Bringing in the Uniform Civil Code was part of the BJP’s election manifesto. The Law Ministry in its directive dated June 17 asked the law commission to examine the matter and submit a report. The commission issued a questionnaire seeking views on family laws of all religions on October 7, the same day the Union government filed its affidavit in the apex court supporting Shayara Bano’s plea for ban on talaq-e-bidat. This led to Muslim groups, led by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, to accuse the Modi government of waging a “war” against Muslims.

Chauhan said the timing of the questionnaire was purely coincidental and that the commission’s exercise was independent of the triple talaq matter in the Supreme Court. “We have no political agenda. Also, the SC has not asked us to give any feedback, nor are we giving any. Whatever the SC decides will be binding on us.”

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