The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP plans gender cover for civil code

New Delhi, March 8: The demand for a uniform civil code may return to the BJP’s Vision Document 2004, but repackaged as a gender-related issue.

Spurred by a recently-passed Jammu and Kashmir bill that curtails the rights of local women who marry outside the state, the BJP is preparing the intellectual ground to revive one of its pet themes.

Instead of linking the civil code to the personal laws governing religious communities, the contentious issue is likely to be articulated and repackaged as one related to “gender equality and dignity”.

Sources emphasised the likely rewording must not be “misinterpreted” as the party’s readiness to forsake the demand for a uniform civil code, on the foundation of which a large part of the Hindutva edifice was built, post-Shah Bano.

The BJP’s civil-code demand had got a big fillip when it whipped up public opinion against the Rajiv Gandhi government for overturning, through a constitutional amendment, the Supreme Court’s ruling on maintenance for divorced Muslim women.

The RSS told the BJP clearly at a meeting at the Prime Minister’s house on Friday that the Sangh saw no reason why contentious subjects should not be incorporated in the BJP’s manifesto though it understood the party’s compulsion of keeping these topics out of the NDA’s.

The RSS further hinted that its support to the BJP in the coming elections must “not be taken for granted”.

With deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani reportedly giving the go-ahead, the BJP has picked on Jammu and Kashmir’s Permanent Resident (Disqualification) Bill as the launchpad for reviving the civil-code debate.

Law minister Arun Jaitley took the opportunity on International Women’s Day today to fire the first salvo. “International Women’s Day,” he said, “is being held in the shadow of one of the most retrograde pieces of legislation ever approved by an Indian legislative body.”

The law, which had first been introduced in 1927 by former Jammu and Kashmir ruler Raja Hari Singh and struck down in 2002 by a full bench of Jammu and Kashmir High Court, was a repeat of the Shah Bano amendment, Jaitley said.

“We believe the Congress has been deemed the common villain on both occasions. It was responsible for overturning the Shah Bano judgment and now it is part of a state government which brought this bill,” he said.

The minister demanded all laws that encouraged “any form of gender discrimination” be reconsidered — whether at the Centre or in the states — and urged political parties to debate the issue and make public their stand.

BJP sources said various laws affecting the right of birth, death, marriage and inheritance were “still discriminatory”. They maintained that the party’s stand on a uniform civil code, as enshrined in all related resolutions adopted at national executives, was always linked to “gender sensitivity and justice”.

While the Vision Document may stop short of speaking of “uniformity”, it will wax eloquent on gender equality and mention how the personal laws — including certain sections of the Hindu Succession Act such as Section 6 — ought to be rectified of gender bias.

A politico-legislative mechanism alone could not correct the “flaws”, the sources said. “An atmosphere has to be built,” a source added.

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