Rethinking the UCC debate

In a recent opinion piece I argue that the rather hackneyed debate on the UCC and Indian multiculturalism needs to be reimagined given certain significant shifts in ground realities.

“Legislative reforms in Hindu and Christian law and the increasing juridification of Muslim law have created a greater degree of uniformity between the different personal laws. Secondly, there has been greater democratization inside communities and a concerted attempt to reform family law from within. Third, new social surveys have demonstrated that the differences in gender dynamics and family structures bear a greater correlation to economic class and geography than to religious identity. Finally, the focus in family law reform has expanded to address questions of domestic violence and the right to a matrimonial home which cut across community identities”

Because of the limits of the format I was not able to supply all the references that I would have liked, but for those who are interested I would recommend

-on the juridification of Muslim family law
Flavia Agnes, Law, Justice and Gender: Family Law and Constitutional Provisions in India (Oxford, New Delhi, 2010)

– on fragmentation within Muslim organizations

Justin Jones, ‘Signs of churning’: Muslim Personal Law and public contestation in twenty-first century India”

Sylvia Vatuk, “Islamic Feminism in India? Indian Muslim Women Activists and the Reform of Muslim Person Law.” In F. Osella and C. Osella, eds., Islamic Reform in India, Special Issue, Modern Asian Studies 42/2 & 3, 2008.

-on survey data on the conditions of Indian women

Zoya Hasan and Ritu Menon, Unequal Citizens: A Study of Muslim Women in India (Oxford University Press, 2004)

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  • Hi Rohit – That was a great read and it is very heartening to see someone addressing the cause rather than the symptoms of the recent unrest, and come to a (rare and) reassuring conclusion!

    I suppose the light falls differently depending on where you stand on the prism of the Indian experience with personal laws – on a different (but related?)point, can't help wondering if the same logic could be extended to the wave of "multiculturalism has failed" messages being endorsed by all and sundry in Europe these days?


  • Thanks Malavika. I think the problem with 'multiculturalism' as in plays out in liberal theory today is that it tends to carry a very reified notion of culture. So the the progressives defend this reified culture (which empowers certain people within a community) while the right decries the 'culture' itself.

  • Rohit, I wanted to ask you how "a greater degree of uniformity" between personal laws should affect our thinking about these laws' existence. Personally, I'm skeptical that one can measure uniformity/disuniformity so easily, as it what constitutes 'family law' (in the first place) and uniformity does depend on the eye of the beholder. For instance, before the advent of the same-sex marriage debate in the U.S. there was a consensus that family law between the states had converged… but only because scholars chose to ignore vast differences in states about the treatment of incest and child-marriage.

    And even if one were to diagnose convergence, I'm far from sure that that advises the eradication of personal laws. There are sound democratic (and equality-premised) reasons to keep (at least a) potential for cultural difference and experimentation.

    – Jeff Redding

  • Dear Jeff

    I was trying to address the current UCC debate which claims uniformity is essential for equality. I agree that equality is still fairly incommensurable, but I show that the points (atleast on paper) are not as far as imagined. The convergence doesn't imply erradication of personal laws, because ultimately even if they are bound by similiar principles adjudicative mechanisms in Muslim law and state courts are different. And perhaps most importantly, (and I try to highlight this a bit) there exists a huge gap between law in texts and law in practice.

    I agree with the laboratory arguement