The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Parties, women play safe on common code

New Delhi, July 23: Opposition parties and women’s organisations have reacted cautiously to the Supreme Court’s judgment calling for a uniform civil code and preferred to stick to their usual ambivalent position on the issue.

The Congress, the main Opposition party, and the Left articulated a position that has not changed much over the years. “The Congress is for social change. But no decision should be imposed from above,” said Congress spokesperson Satyabrata Chaturvedi.

The Left took a similar view. “We want social reforms but nothing should be imposed from above,” CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan said. “The Supreme Court judgment throws the ball in the court of Parliament,” he stressed.

The rest of the Opposition, including Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal, expressed similar sentiments.

Not wanting to stick their necks out on such a sensitive issue, the Opposition straddled a thin line between supporting “in principle” a uniform civil code while at the same time not pushing it in a manner that could upset Muslims. All Opposition parties, particularly the Congress and the Samajwadi, are concerned about their Muslim vote bank, which, they feel, will be dented if they are perceived as supporting a uniform code.

However, all political parties and women’s groups conceded that a uniform civil code would make a difference in the lives of women. Various women’s organisations have been working among Muslims to bring about a change that will give the women of the community some rights.

Earlier, the Left parties used to maintain that social reform should come from within the community. Now they concede that there has been a steady growth of fundamentalist forces in the country and the “modern outlook” has received a setback. “There is no doubt that we should move towards a uniform civil code, but that should also have some approval from the community,” Bardhan said.

Sayeeda Hameed, of the Muslim Women’s Forum, said “andar se change nahin ho raha hai (no change is taking place from within the community)”. According to her, the growth of Hindu fundamentalism has only made Muslims more “vulnerable” and “insecure”. “After Ayodhya and Gujarat, the Muslims have become more and more dependent on the religious heads of the community — if only for security,” Hameed said.

The women’s organisations, however, played safe and pointed to the current atmosphere of suspicion between Hindus and Muslims. Any talk of a uniform civil code will be looked upon as a further intrusive move aimed at hurting the sentiments of the minority community, they said.

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