Apprehensions over UCC among Punjab parties not new; Hindu Code Bill also faced resistance from state leaders

Amid a clamour over the proposed Uniform Civil Code (UCC), for which all parties of Punjab have expressed apprehensions, it’s worth noting that a similar resistance was put up against the Hindu Code Bill in the 1950s when it was tabled in Parliament for discussion.

It was not just the Sikhs, even the Hindu Jat leaders of undivided Punjab had objected to several clauses of the Hindu Code Bill. In fact, a Congress Member of Parliament from Hisar, Pandit Thakur Das Bhargava, had said that the Hindu Code Bill is “not modern enough for Punjab”.

He had said, “As regards to social reforms, the people of Punjab are far ahead than those of the rest of India. This Code does not go to that extent. For them (Punjabis), this Code is not a kind of social reform but it draws them back instead. If this Code would be shown to any Hindu or Sikh of the rural areas of Punjab, then he would say ‘Oh Sir, what are you doing? You are retrogressing us to a great extent. We are far ahead of all this. You want to take us further backward’. The people of Punjab will not be benefited by this Code.”

On the proposals for property rights in families and for women, he had said, “But in regard to appointing heirs to property, just as the Romans did by way of Nominis Hereditio, if the people of Punjab have practices like that, nobody has the right to touch them.” Notably, there was a provision in the Bill that no person could adopt an heir.

Quoting the proceedings of the Hindu Law Committee meeting, Bhargava had said, “As a matter of fact, in Punjab, where I was presiding over a meeting of this committee, some 500 women entered the Commercial Museum Hall, Lahore, where the meeting was held, and said with folded hands, ‘Do not bring son-in-law into the family and ruin our business’.” The Bill had proposed property rights to the daughters.

Congress party’s Hindu Jat leader Chaudhary Ranbir Singh had also made some interesting comments.

Singh had said, “In Punjab, may he be a Hindu or a Sikh or a Muslim, has never raised his voice that their customary law should be abolished and in place of that they should have the law of Manu, or of Yajnavalkya or of anybody else.”

Singh’s comments can be better understood from the comments made by Andhra Pradesh MP Pattabhai Sitaramayya. The MP had kept Jats in the list of Mughals, Turks, English and others who had come from outside.

To insist that Punjab is different from the rest of India, Singh had said, “This is a historical fact that during the recent years, nobody has been able to defeat a Congress candidate in the Hindu majority areas but in Punjab, there is a constituency which is a Hindu majority area and Chottu Ram had defeated a Congress candidate there.” Sir Chhotu Ram was a famous Jat leader before India gained independence. He was instrumental in bringing Hindu and Muslim Jats together under the Unionist Party to form two governments in Punjab.

Singh had also accused Dr B R Ambedkar of imposing Brahmanic rules on Jats through the Hindu Code Bill. During the discussions on the Bill, Singh had said, “I want to bring to the notice of Dr Ambedkar that even in such a time when such Brahmanic rules and regulations with regard to the living and customs of the country and the society are being enforced rigidly, the martial race of the Jats in Punjab, to which I and the Sardar Baldev Singh belong, did not yield…This is not because I regard myself as a non-Hindu but I do feel that we have never been governed by the Hindu Code and it has never been enforced with regard to us. I doubt your intentions that you can govern through the backdoor policy those whom you could not enslave mentally. I disagree with you to a great extent with regard to the rules and regulations, which you are enacting in respect of marriage and divorce without caring for the customs.”

Sikh leader Hukam Singh had raised a concern which was very similar to what the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has raised on the UCC. He had said, “Doubts arose in the beginning of this century and then a particular Act had to be passed in 1909 — the Anand Marriage Validating Act — when it was enacted that all marriages solemnised according to this form were valid. But now, as I read it, I am doubtful whether this marriage will be recognised under the Hindu Code.” Hukam Singh had mentioned that there is no mention of the Sikh way of marriage in the Hindu Code Bill.

He had added, “But when I look into the Bill, I find that there is nothing of Hindu law that is being codified here. Divorce is being taken from the Christian countries and the law of inheritance from the Muslim law. To me, it is rather a misnomer to call it a codification of the Hindu law,” he observed.

He feared for the future of joint families under the Hindu Code and had said, “Legislations like this and divorces would not root out the evils that you want to eradicate. Before destroying the joint families, the State must provide for old-age maintenance, illness allowance and several other things. If the pious duty is gone, a mere charge on property would not do. The effects of this legislation, so far as I can think out, will be further fragmentation, love and sympathy, eliminated divorce and partition courts in larger numbers, female infanticide promoted and care and attention of children neglected.”

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