Uniformity has a clear definition. Yet the Narendra Modi-led government appears to have trouble understanding the concept. After having started the process of introducing a uniform civil code in spite of the 2018 Law Commission report that it was neither desirable nor necessary and amid strong protests from large groups of citizens, two of its leaders have announced that states in the Northeast and tribal populations elsewhere will be not be made subject to it. Northeastern states and indigenous groups have objected to the UCC on the ground that their rituals and customs would be affected by it. The Meghalaya chief minister said that the practices of his state cannot be dismissed and everyone forced to follow a new rule. The Bharatiya Janata Party member of parliament and chairperson of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice, Sushil Kumar Modi, presented the BJP’s backtracking smartly by declaring the exceptions. The argument, that they have special customs, was repeated by the minister of state for health, who added that the BJP’s love for diversity would not allow it to hurt tribal culture, but appeasement was not right either.
The word ‘appeasement’, with its implicit association with the country’s largest minority community in Indian politics, would suggest to protesters how the UCC is targeted. It is not just tribal states and groups that are protesting, but members of minority religions too, as are many members of the majority religion. The northeastern states most vocal in protest, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland, have large Christian populations. If the government does not wish to impinge on religious practices of tribal groups, why would not the same argument apply to minority religions? ‘Appeasing’ the tribal population is a positive act because it brings votes; it is the appeasement of minority communities that is to be condemned. The government’s intent is clear enough for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and others too have said that a UCC will not affect Muslims alone. Mr Modi’s government seems little bothered that its focus should be so obvious. Using the UCC as a constitutional shield to crack down on selected minority communities would sabotage all pretences of democracy and equality and threaten freedom of religion. The way the government seems to visualise it, there is nothing uniform or civil about the UCC.