Though outwardly there was diversity and infinite variety among our people, everywhere there was that tremendous impress of oneness, which had held all of us together for ages past, whatever political fate or misfortune had befallen us.The Search for India, from The Discovery of India, 1946
The trite, ‘Unity in Diversity’ has been often taken for granted. Some questions do remain. What sort of unity it refers to? What is the depth of unity? Is it an existential necessity? Finally, is it the pinnacle where we are expected to be in?
Let’s analyze the nature and depth of unity which we claim to be coexisting with diversity. The answer is simple, unity exists in the sense that political map of India still remains intact. ie., in political sense. Asking for the definition of unity beyond in strict political sense would be rather disturbing for self-proclaimed secular Nehruvian politicians. Even after 72 years of independence, modern India is grappling with discrepancies, paradoxes, conflicts and tensions. Internally, diversity virtually outweighs unity in social, cultural and economic aspects hindering national progress.
Let’s perform a hypothetical thought experiment to compare absolute unity with the state of unity in diversity. Suppose all Hindus in India decides to marry off their children to other religions excluding Hinduism. Similarly all Muslims in India decides to marry off their children to other religions excluding Islam. If this happens, the establishment of religion will be demolished within no time. There won’t be any theological laws or dominant clergy. Places of worship will be optional. Sacred texts won’t be burned, but will remain as goodreads disseminating progressive ideas. Ram, Allah and Christ will become indistinguishable. Will you welcome this? Or will you oppose it in the name of preserving diversity? If you aren’t a religious bigot, it should be welcomed. If you are ready to welcome, you have to agree with the fact, unity is superior to diversity. Thus, experiment underscores, ‘Unity in Diversity has a relative value due to the inability to achieve the state of absolute unity.’ Furthermore, it affirms, diversity is neither an existential necessity nor a pinnacle where we should be in. It’s a transitory state from which we are expected to strive towards absolute unity.
Constitution of India implicitly directs to promote unity over diversity in course of time.
It shall be the duty of Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language and to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of composite culture of India.Article 351 in Part VII
Inspite of this, Amit Shah’s proposal to promote Hindi as a unifying element met with political outcry.
Since Nehruvian period, subsequent governments, more precisely Indian National Congress (INC), with fair mandates was interested in intensifying existing divisions. With a mask of tolerance and secularism they succeeded in securing vote banks through divisive appeasement policies. Attitude towards Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is the quintessential political expediency of Congress party.
The state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.Article 44 in Part IV
Although Directive Principles of State Policy are non-justiciable in nature, constitution (Article 37) itself says that these principles are fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the state to apply these principles in making laws. While Chairman of Constitution Drafting Committee B.R Ambedkar, with eminent nationalists like Gopal Swamy Iyangar, Anantasayam Iyangar, K.M Munshi and Alladi Krishnaswamy Iyer argued for the implementation of UCC but didn’t materialise due to strong opposition from Muslim fundamentalists. Moreover, after of colonialism, people of a nascent republic wasn’t thought to be socio-culturally matured enough to accept revolutionary principles. The trio, Shri Minoo Masani, Smt. Hansa Mehta and Rajkumari Amrit Kaur favoured the need of UCC within a period of five to ten years.
“One of the factors that have kept India back from advancing to nationhood has been the existence of personal laws based on religion which keeps nation divided into watertight compartments in many aspects of life.”Rajkumari Amrit Kaur
After 70 years from enactment of Constitution, the claim ‘UCC isn’t desirable now’, is completely baseless.
Erstwhile political leadership after independence mistakenly decided not to take on Muslim orthodoxy. But later leaderships, specifically under Smt. Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi followed the policy of appeasing ultra-conservative Muslim orthodoxy for electoral gains.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) was formed in 1973 with blessings from Prime Minister Smt. India Gandhi. Instead of promoting a progressive Uniform Civil Code, she permitted the formation of a clergy dominated organization to protect and promote retrogressive Muslim Personal Law governed by Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.
AIMPLB opposed Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act,2009 as they thought it will infringe Madrassa system. Endorsed child marriage and denounced Child Marriage Restraint Act. Were against gay rights and homosexuality. Supported Triple Talaq and even resists Yoga. Some progressive Muslim scholars like Tahir Muhammed, Arif Muhammad Khan and retired Supreme Court judge Martkanteya Katju advocated abolishing AIMPLB. Same organization is now a hardcore critic of UCC. But why? With UCC Muslim community won’t be dominated by archaic theologians and non-sensical laws ie.,clergy will lose their say in religion. Given these facts, it isn’t surprising that hyper-conservative AIMPLB is resisting progressive UCC in the name of diversity. What’s astonishing is, Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi compromised with the unity of nation and upliftment of Muslims by appeasing theologians for the sake of vote bank.
Rajiv Gandhi followed his mother’s footsteps. Perhaps a step further. Shah Bano, a 62 year old Muslim mother of five from Indore, Madhya Pradesh was abandoned by her husband. She filed a criminal suit in Supreme Court in which she won right to alimony (Mohd. Ahmed Khan vs Shan Bano Beegum, 1985). Theologians were outraged by Court’s interference in religion. Rajiv-led government being anxious about elections negated secular Supreme Court judgment with absolute majority to pass Muslim Women (Protection of Rights) on Divorce Act, 1986. Arif Muhammad Khan resigned from grand old party in protest. Once again INC surrendered to pressure of orthadoxy compromising the basic ideals of Constitution. Need for UCC was debated at this juncture.
Sarala Mudgal case(1995) is another instance where Supreme Court told government to examine UCC and it’s applicability. When five Hindu men converted to Islam for having second wife court criticised Islamic personal law for legalising polygamy. Once again UCC hit headlines in the name of gender justice.
Imrana rape case(2005) stirred up a heated controversy underscoring UCC amidst volatile issues like- rule of caste panchayats and Shariat. 28 year old Imrana, a mother of five was sexually assaulted by her father-in-law. The village elders and several Islamic theologians ruled Imrana’s marriage null according to Sharia and told her to treat her husband as her son.
Notwithstanding all these instances, pseudo-secular leaders and theologians are still unscrupulously opposing UCC in the name of ‘Diversity’ concealing the fact,‘Unity without uniformity is superficial’.
Indian society was always non-uniform, even now. Unlike Jawaharlal Nehru stated, India was never united beyond a minimal political sense. After Mauryan empire (325-183 B.C.E) Indian subcontinent witnessed periodic political unifications under invasive foreign powers like Turkish Sultans (1206-1526 C.E), Mughals (1526- 1857 C.E) and finally British (1600-1947 C.E). Socio-cultural fragmentation facilitated foreign invasions. Unlike foreign powers, now Constitution is maintaining political unity. Former did it through coercion but latter is doing it through democratic ‘adjustments’.
Socio-cultural unity or an absolute unity still remains to be achieved. Although political parties, for decades, accomodated diverse sections politically, social unification never took place. Moreover, fragmented society was a rudimentary requirement for political parties to sustain, through demagoguery and appeasement. Vote bank calculus went hand in hand with diversity. In the meantime inherent non-uniformity began to intensify multifarious identities. For example; A citizen began to be identified on the basis of his family, caste, religion, language and region. Nationality assumed tertiary or quarternary identity. These divisive identities started forming mutually exclusive rival spheres creating communal tensions. separatism, linguistic chauvinism, regionalism and a lot more. Non-uniformity maintaining diversity is the foundation of all chaos.
Socio-cultural homogenisation should be the objective. Promoting uniformity will be accompanied by fusion of diverse elements. Eventually it will result in formation of a homogeneous culture encompassing progressive aspects of pre-existing diversity. Instead of maintaining status quo, pseudo-pluralists should learn to endorse unity as an objective for defining India as a socio-cultural entity.