Right before the attempt to reform the Muslim society under the Uniform Civil Code, there was another controversy to make the Hindu Fold an egalitarian one. This article, on the Hindu CodeBill, talks about the Hindu society and its foundations with respect to women. Besides talking about the plight of women, the reader will also gain a detailed insight into the work of Babasaheb, and his struggle for equality and justice. This article will also highlight the provisions it sought to bring in through The Hindu Code Bill and harsh criticisms it faced by the radical right-wing parties and how it was finally passed by Jawaharlal Nehru in 4 different parts in years between 1952-1956.
Achieving egalitarianism is not as simple as it looks, quite a few things have to be amended before attaining the desired goal. The Hindu Code Bill was no exception. Established primarily by Babasaheb Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru, they pioneered reforms which include: Right to Divorce, Equal Rights for Women to Inherit Property, and the Abolition of Polygamy. The institution of religion has taken over the lives of people and more so for women, often in a very negative sense. It has strict rules and beliefs which are religiously followed by disciples of the religion.
There’s a correlation between gender and development which has deeply affected the lives of women. Women, as we all know, are always seen as an inferior gender, a burden on the family and are victims of social exclusion. The patriarchal shadow hangs over the lives of women in India. The development of women who are married is largely determined by their husbands. In a patriarchal system, men are essentially the breadwinners while women are confined to the four walls of the house and take care of the children.
Coming to a much earlier age, there is a prevailing tendency of son preference and that’s precisely why the child sex ratio has been coming down at a lightning speed. The patriarchal system has given rise to heinous practices such as female infanticide and dowry-related deaths. Right from the start, women have been bearing the brunt of social oppression and the Institution of Sati is a case in point. There’s also an upsetting urge to marry daughters at a very young age primarily because of the tremendous pressure the society places on the family and more importantly controlling their sexuality.
However, there was a glimmer of hope with the advent of industrialization but it turned out to be the other way round with machines replacing women. For example, Indian women were excellent at making hand-made yarn which eventually got replaced by British mill-made yarn.
The sole purpose of this bill is to bring structural change in society with special emphasis on the rights of women. The bill aimed at codifying, uniting, and modernize the laws governing marriage, property rights, and divorce. B.R. Ambedkar was in the driving seat and propagated the need to bring social change in Hindu society, which form the majority of the Indian Republic.
This bill doesn’t restrict itself to Hinduism only but also to Sikhs, Lingayats, Jains, and Buddhists, all of which were affiliated to Hinduism in the past. The progressives believe that the bill should apply to the whole society and not just Hindus. If it were to be this way, it would violate the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom. The Nehruvian era gave much importance to secularism which meant treating all religions equally.
A process that started as early as the colonial rule, The Hindu Code Bill has evolved with time, incorporating changes. It sought to alter the Hindu law and intended to bring the following changes.
- Previously, the fate of women was in the hands of the husband. Now that the bill aims to end polygamy, the husband will not be able to take another wife if the woman is living.
- In cases of infidelity or abandonment, or any other valid reason for living separately, the woman has a right to claim maintenance from her partner. Originally, the Hindu Law was of the view that the woman would get maintenance only if she stays with her husband. The latter is a blatant violation of a woman’s right and freedom and it was extremely imperative to change it.
- With other changes that it attempts to bring, Babasaheb also included the notion of Trust Property. This term refers to assets that are in the fiduciary relationship between two people, which in the above cases are the girl and the boy. According to this, the property given at the time of dowry belongs to the women and upon reaching the age of eighteen, has a legal right to claim. Here, neither the husband nor his family has any right over it.
- If the woman’s father dies without giving a will, she has the right to the property although only half of what the son gets. This is a perfect example of son preference, prevailing right from the start.
- Hitherto, there are several factors such as married or unmarried are taken into consideration while having access to the property. The bill wants to amend this by proposing that no circumstances at any given condition should act as a hindrance to getting the property.
The above changes were proposed concerning the property. The Hindu Code Bill also incorporated changes in the domain of divorce and marriage as interrelated institutions.
- Hindu law recognized only two forms of marriage: civil and a non-civil marriage. On the other hand, the bill recognizes 3 types of marriages namely: A Dharmic marriage, as the name suggests refers to a religious marriage, a civil marriage and a marriage governed by the Malabar Matrilineal system for the woman where property descended through females with little or no intervention by the male.
- The bill aims to amend sacramental marriages. Until now these marriages were indissoluble. However, The Hindu Code Bill strongly condemns this rigidity. It can be terminated under three brackets which are: null and void, dissolved or it may be invalid.
For a bill to become a law, there are many legal procedures such as passing it in both houses of parliament and most importantly the president’s ascent. The transition of a bill to become a law is never fluid. There are proponents for a bill and there is opposition sharing their perspective as to why the bill shouldn’t become law. In the case of The Hindu Code Bill, the opposition was more in numbers. Much of the support the bill received was from women. Eminent personalities such as Mrs. Jayashri Raiji called upon other women to become proactive and stressed on the need to mobilize people about the ill-treatment of women.
This marshaling of people resulted in furor from the opposition. The President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad overtly expressed his dissent and propagated that the bill would only benefit the progressives.
Other radical right-wing parties also condemned the bill. The Hindu Mahasabha rejected it by believing that legal authority has no right to intervene in a religion’s law. The Jan Sangh another organization opposing this remarked that social change in society should be a natural process and not dictated by the government. Other small parties and organization based their opinions on similar grounds.
The Hindu Code Bill controversy is very similar to that of the Triple Talaq. However, people who disavowed the Hindu Code Bill on the grounds of interference by the state, supported the abolition of Triple Talaq of Islam.
The religious sentiments and traditions that have been in practice for centuries played a vital role in shaping the perspectives of people. It is of no surprise that there was a consolidated opposition as far as the bill was concerned. The Hindu Code Bill is arguably one of the most controversial bills that have ever been deliberated upon in the parliament.
After it getting watered down and several rejections in the parliament, Babasaheb resigned from the Cabinet in 1951. In the coming years, when Congress came to power, Nehru sought on a mission to get the bill passed. Dividing into 4 parts: The Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, these finally passed in the years between 1952-1956.
Banningan, J. (1952). The Hindu Code Bill. Far Eastern Survey, 21(17), 173-176. doi:10.2307/3024109