Strike a fine balance, have a just civil code
On June 14, the Law Commission of India decided to solicit views and proposals from the public about the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). After a hiatus of just five years, when the Commission had concluded that the ‘UCC is neither necessary nor desirable’, the move now is one that keeps the pot boiling on one of India’s most ideologically as well as politically rivalled issue. Though we believe that the enactment of the UCC in piecemeal manner would be in tune with the spirit of Article 44, the attempt here is to invite attention to one particular consideration that must weigh with the Commission as it undertakes this exercise de novo.
Autonomy versus authority
The question of personal laws is basically the question of personal and religious autonomy versus the state’s authority to reform familial relations. Since each religious group has cultural autonomy, it is thus being argued that the community should itself come forward to seek reforms. This is the justification for the adoption of internal law reform or voluntary UCC. In fact, the Special Marriage Act, 1954 and the Indian Succession Act, 1925 are nothing but examples of voluntary adoption of the UCC though the recently enacted love jihad laws by prohibiting inter-faith marriages basically violate the spirit of Special Marriage Act.
There are also regional differences, i.e. Kerala had abolished the Hindu Joint Family in 1975; Muslim marriage and divorces are to be registered in Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand under the 1876 law, and in Assam under 1935 law, and adoption was permissible to Kashmiri Muslims.
At present, not just Muslims but even Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jews are governed by their own personal laws. Accordingly, believe it or not, it is the religious identity that determines which personal law would apply to a group of individuals. Even reformed Hindu Personal Law under the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 does insist on solemnisation of marriage, through saptapadi (seven steps around fire) and datta (invocation before fire). Section 7(2) of the Act, just like Manusmriti (8.227), provides that marriage is completed on the seventh step. Sapinda relationship, adoption and Hindu Joint Family rules too are based on the Hindu Personal Law.
Surprisingly when two Hindus marry under the Special Marriage Act, 1954 (Section 21A inserted in 1976), they continue to be governed by Hindu Personal Law, but if two Muslims marry under this legislation, the Muslim Personal Law (MPL) would no longer govern them. Interestingly, a person who renounces Hinduism too continues to be governed by the Hindu Personal Law.
The Constitution was not the starting point but a mere culmination of India’s long-standing integrative traditions. In addition to the provisions that outlaw discrimination in all its forms, the Indian Constitution’s commitment to cultural accommodation is visible through a near-absolute fundamental right in Article 29(1) dedicated exclusively to conserving the distinctive culture of all citizens. However, do Muslims of India have the courage to argue that polygamy or arbitrary unilateral divorce even in anger or while in an intoxicated state could be considered a part of their culture?
Unity more than uniformity
That said, the Commission must bear in its recommendation that for a diverse and multicultural polity such as India, the proposed UCC must be emblematic of India’s ‘mosaic model’ of multiculturalism. The logic is invariably obvious — a homogenising lithification of identities must not become a mirage for flourishing diversity (something that has consistently remained peculiar to the American model of multiculturalism). After all, unity is far more important than uniformity. The British brought homogeneity amongst Hindus and Muslims by grossly undermining heterogeneity within the two religious communities.
Under the Indian Constitution, the right to cultural autonomy defends the Indian model of multiculturalism. Prominent scholars on multiculturalism such as Rochana Bajpai suggest that the Indian Constitution offers two major approaches with respect to accommodation of difference — integrationist and restricted multicultural. While the affirmative action policies largely land in the first approach’s camp, for Ms. Bajpai, “state assistance to minority cultures has been seen as an illegitimate concession […]” and is often termed as ‘appeasement of minorities’.
This, as Ms. Bajpai furthers, leaves cultural difference without any robust constitutional normative underpinnings. In short, it is through these two approaches that the Constitution makes way for cultural accommodation and a celebration of group differences. Accordingly, the 21st Law Commission (2015-18) had boldly favoured equality between men and women in communities rather than aiming for equality between communities. A just code should be the primary goal as just laws are more important than a mere one uniform law.
Having this discussion as the backdrop, India’s tryst with preserving its multicultural diversity is often found at the crossroads with values such as secularism. Despite secularism being a fundamental tenet governing the Indian polity, India decided not to adopt the French model of laïcité, which strictly prohibits bearing any religious outfit or marker in public; that considers religion in public as a threat (and not a prominent promoter) to the nation’s secular fabric — thus pushing it within only the four walls of the domestic household. Indian society, therefore, ‘accommodates’ and not just ‘tolerates’ the wide array of group and ethnic differences.
When groups claim and effectuate their multi-ethnic traditions without impinging on the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, their traditions and values acquire the status of social mores for they fulfil a much broader purpose of social and national integration.
However, a claim of such broad nature invites limitations inherent — in the name of personal laws and practices, what deserves legal protection and promotion and what does not. Right to cultural-relativism cannot justify continuation of unjust and discriminatory personal laws. Such provisions of the personal laws must be made consistent with substantive equality and gender justice goals espoused in the Constitution.
Hurdles on the path ahead
Simultaneously, we must understand that when a community feels threatened in any way, whether rightly or wrongly so, the collective esteem of its members becomes woven to the community, and community allegiance becomes much stronger. Therefore, one hopes that the Law Commission of India would not contribute to the rise of reactive culturalism amongst different communities in India, including Muslims. The Muslim community too must understand that the MPL and Islam are not one and the same. The MPL is a jurist given law and is not entirely divine. In fact, it is more appropriate to call it Anglo-Muhammadan law that was derived in certain matters from the erroneously translated secondary sources rather than the Koran and Sunna of the Prophet. British courts treated juristic opinions in the MPL on a par with statutory laws enacted by the legislature and by insisting on the British doctrine of precedent, they further brought in a lot of rigidity in the MPL. If MPL reforms that rely on inter-school borrowing could be accepted by the Ulema way back in 1939, why cannot this be done today? Let the Muslim clergy come forward and lead the MPL reform process by identifying the discriminatory and oppressive issues and adopt the views of progressive jurists.
As the Commission proposes an overhauling secularisation of various socio-religious-cultural practices that have been the mainstay of thousands of religious and ethnic communities since times immemorial, the path ahead is not going to be free from hurdles. In the words of political philosopher Iris Young, as the value of social difference is more relational and is itself a product of social processes, we believe that it will be incumbent upon the Commission to strike a fine balance as it should aim to eliminate only those practices that do not meet the benchmarks set by the Constitution.
The Law Commission of India should aim to eliminate only those practices that do not meet the benchmarks set by the Constitution of India.
Facts about the News
- A UCC would provide for one law for the entire country, applicable to all religious communities, in their personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption etc.
- In other words, UCC is a set of rules/regulations, which proposes to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in the country with a common set governing every citizen.
Current situation in India
- Currently, Indian personal law is fairly complex, with each religion adhering to its own specific laws.
- Separate laws/ customs govern Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhist, Muslims, Christians, and followers of other religions.
- Moreover, there is diversity even within communities. All Hindus of the country are not governed by one law, nor are all Muslims or all Christians.
- For instance, in the Northeast, there are more than 200 tribes with their own varied customary laws.
- The Constitution itself protects local customs in Nagaland. Similar protections are enjoyed by Meghalaya and Mizoram.
- The exception to this rule is the state of Goa, where all religions have a common law regarding marriages, divorces, and adoption.
- Article 44 of the Constitution lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a UCC for citizens throughout the territory of India.
– Article 44 is among the Directive Principles of State Policy.
– Directive Principles are not enforceable by court, but are supposed to inform and guide governance.
Please read- Shah Bano judgement
Stand of the 21stLaw Commission on the matter
- In 2018, 21st Law Commission underlined that the Uniform Civil Code is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage.
- It argued for reform of family laws of every religion through amendments and codification of certain aspects so as to make them gender-just.
- It further said that cultural diversity cannot be compromised to the extent that our urge for uniformity itself becomes a reason for threat to the territorial integrity of the nation.
Need for UCC
- To promote national unity
- Different personal laws are put to subversive use
- To promote gender justice
- Not in the domain of religious activities
- Vision of constitution makers
Arguments against UCC
- Diversity cannot be compromised for uniformity
- Violation of fundamental rights
- Constitution recognises the customary laws and procedures prevailing in NE states
- Detrimental to communal harmony of India
Squaring the circle at the India-Egypt summit
There is a danger that after an adrenaline-rushed and consequential parley in the United States, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Egypt (June 24-25, 2023) may appear to be a bit underwhelming. It is anything but.
Historically, India-Egypt ties are perhaps the oldest civilisational link. In 2750 BCE, the Pharaoh Sahure sent ships to the “Land of Punt”, which historians identify with peninsular India. By the middle of the second millennium BCE, Egyptian mummies were wrapped in muslin dyed with indigo, both from India.
Links and some key data
It is this historic inspiration that needs to be invoked while aiming for greater bilateral relevance and substantiality. While the past century of contacts produced plenty of goodwill and verbal shibboleths — from decolonisation to non-alignment and from Egyptians’ Bollywood-frenzy to the addition of lilting Egyptian music in Indian scores — they have delivered little of substance. India’s trade with the most populous Arab country stood at $6,061 million in 2022-23, having declined by 17% over the previous year. Nearly a third of it was petroleum-related. India was Egypt’s sixth largest trading partner, while Egypt was India’s 38th. Indian investments in Egypt were spread over 50 projects totalling $3.15 billion, half of the sum contributed by a single company. Egypt has invested only $37 million in India. There are less than 5,000 Indians in Egypt, nearly a fifth of them being students.
The underperformance of bilateral ties is not due to a lack of bilateral institutional mechanisms, but their efficacy and sense of purpose. India has a Joint Commission, Foreign Office Consultations and at least nine joint working groups. Its Defence and External Affairs Ministers visited Egypt during the past year. It had a bilateral summit less than five months ago when the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, visited India. All this perhaps attests that both India and Egypt have formidable bureaucracies and public sectors adept at rearranging the chairs on the deck.
Opportunities and challenges
If the forthcoming Cairo Summit is not to become yet another event management exercise, it would need to leverage the opportunities while avoiding the pitfalls. Egypt is a large country (population 105 million) and economy ($378 billion). It is politically stable and its socio-economic conditions are quite similar to India. Egypt’s largest imports are refined petroleum, wheat (world’s largest importer), cars, corn and pharmaceuticals — all of which India has the potential to supply.
Moreover, the Egyptian government has an ambitious infrastructure development agenda, with 49 mega projects including the construction of a New Cairo ($58 billion), a $25 billion nuclear power plant and a $23 billion high-speed rail network. During 2015-19, Egypt was the world’s third-largest arms importer. These present opportunities for India.
But these opportunities are offset by serious challenges. To begin with, the Egyptian economy is in a serious crisis. The huge financial commitments have coincided with a static economy, pandemic, global slowdown and the Ukraine conflict. Consequently, tourism has dropped and imports such as cereals have become costly. Annual inflation is above 30% and the currency has lost more than half its value since February 2022. Foreign exchange scarcity has forced the deferral of payments for such essentials as wheat. While a $3 billion bailout package was negotiated with the International Monetary Fund six months ago, it is conditional on the tough economic reforms which are sputtering, due to entrenched interests and crony capitalism.
The affluent Gulf Arab states initially supported the Egyptian economy with nearly $30 billion, but have been lately reluctant citing various governance issues in Egypt. Egypt’s foreign debt is over $163 billion (43% of the GDP) and its net foreign assets are minus $24.1 billion. The acute forex situation compelled the government to issue in January 2023 an order for the postponement of projects with a large foreign currency component and cuts to non-essential spending.
Pitfalls to avoid
With this backdrop in mind, Indian summiteers in Cairo may need to carefully balance their exposure to Egypt with the opportunities on hand. India may countenance manageable eco-political risks to partake Egypt’s lucrative opportunities through various innovations such as the EXIM line of credit, barter, and rupee trading. It should, however, avoid a repetition of its experience of Iraq in the 1980s and 1990s of having to defer its hard-earned construction project dues until they had to eventually be paid off by the Indian taxpayer. Moreover, such an arrangement may set a precedent other similarly placed friendly countries may cite. India may, instead, consider trilateral funding arrangements for such projects in Egypt or elsewhere with its partners in the Gulf, the G-20 or the multilateral financial institutions.
performance of bilateral ties is not due to a lack of bilateral institutional mechanisms, but their efficacy and sense
G-20 trade unions meet emphasises global social security
Union Minister for Labour and Employment Bhupender Yadav, addressing the Labour 20 (L-20), — the meeting of trade unions of G-20 countries — on Friday said the two statements adopted by the unions on universalisation of social security and the portability of social security funds, and on empowering women in the future of work and upskilling the women workforce in tech-intensive environments were a testament to the spirit of social dialogue.
Mr. Yadav said the deliberations at the two-day meeting proved to be enlightening with diverse perspectives and viewpoints from various stakeholders. She said a changing work environment characterised by technological advancements, globalisation, and evolving labour markets had significant implications for employment and the provision of adequate social security.
“There is therefore a need for comprehensive and forward-looking social security policies that take into account the evolving nature of work. Governments, employers, trade unions, and international organisations must collaborate to ensure that social security systems are inclusive, adaptable, and accessible to all,” the Minister said.
Mr. Yadav said that by equipping women with necessary skills and knowledge, governments could ensure their engagement in the job market and promoting gender parity.
“The task force on ‘International Portability of social security funds’ recommended that data on the susceptibilities and needs of migrants should be collected and analysed for efficiency of social protection systems. It called for disaggregating national data pertaining to social safety schemes, considering citizenship and residency status as reliable indicators of migrant status. This would facilitate computation of the potential financial ramifications of transferable benefits and the estimation of the labour migrants’ effective or de facto social protection coverage,” the summit said.
There is a need for forward-looking policies, says Bhupender Yadav.
Facts about the News
About International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC):
- It is an organization established in 2006, that promotes the trade union movement.
- It represents 176 million workers in 161 countries and territories and has 325 national affiliates.
- Mission: Promotion and defence of workers’ rights and interests, through international cooperation between trade unions, global campaigning and advocacy within the major global institutions.
- Its main areas of activity include the following: trade union and human rights; economy, society and the workplace; equality and non-discrimination; and international solidarity.
- It is governed by four-yearly world congresses, a General Council and an Executive Bureau.
- It works closely with the International Labour Organisation and with several other UN Specialised Agencies.
- Headquarters: Belgium
Bridging the gap
Efforts to reduce gender disparities must continue in earnest
India has climbed eight places from last year in the annual Gender Gap Report, 2023, and is now ranked 127 out of 146 countries in terms of gender parity. But this improved statistic, closing 64.3% of the overall gender gap, is hardly a cause for cheer. On the four key markers of the index — economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; political empowerment — India has a window of opportunity to improve in each so that one half of the most populous country in the world may contribute to the economy, growth and overall well-being of society. India has fared well in education, and in political empowerment, with representation of women of over 40% in local governance, thanks to efforts on the ground after the 73rd and 74th Amendments. But, as the report points out, women represent only 15.1% of parliamentarians, “the highest for India since the inaugural 2006 edition”. This should spur Parliament to take it to the next level by acting on the long-pending Women’s Reservation Bill, which proposes to reserve 33% of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Assemblies for women, and introduced in 1996. To understand where things stand on women’s participation in politics, consider this: Nagaland, which became a State in 1963, elected its first two women MLAs only in 2023.
On providing even access for men and women on economic participation and opportunity, India ranks near the bottom, with less than 40% parity. On the one hand, there are upticks in parity in wages and income, but then shares of women in senior positions and technical roles have dropped. Another concern is India’s performance in health and survival, though an improvement in sex ratio at birth has driven up parity after more than a decade of slow progress. It is imperative that girls get access to education through school and college; and they also need paid work. Women end up doing so much unpaid work at home that many do not have the time or the energy to opt for paid work. Providing girls with a job-assured education will automatically improve all development indices including nutrition, and break the vicious cycle of early marriage leading to poor maternal and child health. If the pandemic revealed the fragility of life, it was harder on women, with their labour participation rates dropping, thus reducing household incomes. Often, even if they get a job, women are impeded by patriarchal and cultural norms; besides, they often have to worry about their safety. The pandemic may have stalled progress to achieve gender equality by 2030, but work towards bridging the gap must go on in earnest.
Facts about the News
Global Gender Gap Index
– It benchmarks countries on their progress towards gender parity in four Key dimensions with Submatrices.
- Economic Participation and Opportunity
- Educational Attainment
- Health and Survival
- Political Empowerment
– On each of the four sub-indices as well as on the overall index the GGG index provides scores between 0 and 1, where 1 shows full gender parity and 0 is complete imparity.
– It is the longest-standing index, which tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time since its inception in 2006.
- To serve as a compass to track progress on relative gaps between women and men on health, education, economy and politics.
- Through this annual yardstick, the stakeholders within each country are able to set priorities relevant in each specific economic, political and cultural context.
Key Findings of The Report for The World
Global Gender Gap:
The global gender gap in 2023 across 146 countries is 68.4%, indicates that there is still a significant gender gap worldwide.
The overall score improved by 0.3 percentage points compared to the previous year.
No country has achieved full gender parity yet.
– Iceland has maintained its position as the most gender-equal country for the 14th consecutive year, with a gender gap score of 91.2%.
- It is the only country to have closed over 90% of its gender gap.
The top nine countries that have closed at least 80% of their gender gap are Iceland, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, Germany, Nicaragua, Namibia, and Lithuania.
Europe surpasses North America and ranks first among the eight geographic regions, with a gender parity score of 76.3%.
The Middle East and North Africa region remains the furthest from parity, with a score of 62.6%.
Labor market disparities:
Women’s participation in the labor market has increased slightly, but gaps still exist.
The global labor-force participation rate parity improved from 63% to 64% between 2022 and 2023.
However, women continue to face higher unemployment rates than men, and many women work in substandard conditions, particularly in the informal economy.
Women are underrepresented in leadership positions across industries.
While women account for 41.9% of the global workforce, their representation in senior leadership positions is only 32.2%.
Different industries exhibit varying levels of gender representation in leadership roles, with construction, financial services, and real estate having the lowest representation.
Gender gaps in STEM:
Women remain significantly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations.
Although the percentage of female STEM graduates entering the workforce has increased, the retention of women in STEM careers remains a challenge.
In the field of artificial intelligence (AI), women’s representation has progressed slowly, with approximately 30% of AI workers being women.
Gender gaps in future skills:
Online learning platforms offer opportunities for skill development, but there are gender gaps in access and enrollment.
Disparities exist across various skill categories, with less than 50% parity in technology skills and AI. The gender gaps tend to widen as proficiency levels increase.
Gender gaps in political leadership:
- The report noted that while there has been progress in increasing the number of women in political leadership roles globally, significant gender gaps still exist. The political empowerment gender gap remains significant, with a closure rate of 22.1% globally and a projected timeline of 162 years to close the gap.
Health and Survival:
- The gender gap in health and survival has closed by 96% globally.
Key Findings for India
India ranked 127th among 146 countries in gender parity — up eight places from last year’s place.
India had closed 64.3% of the overall gender gap, the report said.
India’s Neighbours, rank- Pakistan at 142, Bangladesh at 59, China at 107, Nepal at 116, Sri Lanka at 115 and Bhutan at 103.
– Gender Parity in Education:
- India has achieved parity in enrolment across all levels of education, reflecting a positive development in the country’s education system.
– Economic Participation and Opportunity:
- India’s progress in economic participation and opportunity remains a challenge, with only 36.7% gender parity achieved in this domain.
- While there has been an uptick in parity in wages and income, there is a slight drop in the representation of women in senior positions and technical roles.
- India has made strides in political empowerment, achieving 25.3% parityin this domain. Women represent 15.1% of parliamentarians, which is the highest representation since the inaugural report in 2006.
- 18 countries — including Bolivia (50.4%), India (44.4%) and France (42.3%) — have achieved women’s representation of over 40%in Local Governance.
– Health and Survival:
- There is a 1.9%-point improvement in India’s sex ratio at birth, after more than a decade of slow progress.
- However, India, along with Vietnam, China, and Azerbaijan, still has relatively low scores on the Health and Survival sub-index due to skewed sex ratios.
Micron to produce first semiconductor chip at India plant by Dec. 2024: Vaishnaw
The $2.7-billion semiconductor assembly and testing plant to be built by U.S.-headquartered Micron in India will produce its first chip in six quarters, that is, by December 2024, said Minister of Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw.
The plant would create 5,000 direct and 15,000 indirect jobs, Mr. Vaishnaw said on Friday. Micron’s decision to build the plant was announced on the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States
Terming semiconductors a “foundational technology” used in most electronic appliances like phones and computers besides cars, Mr. Vaishnaw said the investment signalled a milestone for the Indian semiconductor ecosystem.
The manufacturing input for the plant, which Mr. Vaishnaw said would be brought from Japan, would be made into chips and sold to manufacturers in India and abroad, though a break up of how much was expected to be sold domestically and abroad was not provided.
Mr. Vaishnaw added that the groundwork to domestically synthesize hundreds of chemicals and gases involved in semiconductor manufacturing had been laid. Ultra-pure water (UPW), which is required in semiconductor manufacturing in large quantities, would be manufactured for the Micron plant, Mr. Vaishnaw said in response to a query.
The government revised incentives offered to manufacturers under the Production-Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, first in September 2022, and subsequently in this month, and invited previously ineligible applicants to re-apply for benefits.
SOURCE : THE HINDU