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Madhya Pradesh constituting committee for implementation of Uniform Civil Code: Shivraj Chouhan

Cong asks whether BJP govt is trying to interfere in tribal culture and traditions

Shivraj Singh Chouhan Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan addressing a gathering at Barwani

A year ahead of Assembly polls in the state, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan brought up the issue of uniform civil code (UCC) implementation for the first time on a public platform, saying that he was in favour of it and Madhya Pradesh is in the process of constituting a committee in this regard.

Chouhan’s statement has come close on the heels of BJP putting UCC implementation in its election manifesto in Gujarat, which is in process of Assembly polls. The BJP government in Uttarakhand has already constituted a committee to study the implementation of UCC in the state, keeping the pre-poll promise made by Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami in February this year. The promise seemed to have worked as BJP was elected back in the state.

Speaking at a PESA (Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Area) Act awareness programme at Chacharia village in tribal-dominated Barwani district on Thursday evening, Chouhan brought up the issue of UCC in the context of complaints that non-tribal persons married tribal girls to usurp their land as sale or purchase of lands of tribals by non-tribals are illegal.

 “There are some miscreants who marry tribal daughters, and then purchase land in their name and transfer or sell it elsewhere. Today I am here to create awareness among people. I am in favour of the point that it is now time in India to implement the uniform civil code. Why should anyone marry more than once? Why should there be two laws in one country? A committee is being constituted in Madhya Pradesh in this regard. The uniform civil code means the right to have only one wife, then why more? Tell me, sisters, shouldn’t it be so? People marry a tribal girl, purchase land in their name and then sell or transfer it elsewhere. Some of them even make such wives fight the sarpanch elections so that they could gobble up the funds. Now mama (as Chouhan is popularly called) will hang such people, not let them go,” the chief minister said.

Interestingly, the chief minister’s statement came in tribal-dominated Barwani, despite the fact that tribal communities in India, within the meaning of clause (25) of Article 366 of the Constitution are excluded from the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act (HMA), 1955, unless notified otherwise by the central government, according to the section 2(2) of the Act. Therefore, the provisions that make multiple marriages illegal under HMA, are not applicable for tribals and many of them are known to marry multiple times, even in Madhya Pradesh.

In the fifth edition report of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) of 2019-21, it was found that the prevalence of multiple wives (polygyny) is most common among tribal communities (among all caste categories), at 2.4 per cent. In terms of religion, it showed that 1.3 per cent Hindus and 1.9 per cent Muslims practice polygyny.

Is CM trying to interfere in tribal traditions?’

The Opposition Congress attacked the chief minister on this point. Vice-president of the media department of Madhya Pradesh Congress, Abbas Hafeez asked whether by his statement, made in tribal-dominated Barwani, the chief minister was trying to attack the culture and tradition of tribals and interfere in them.

“The Congress has always been for equal rights for men and women and we have come a long way in this direction in the past 75 years. We want the government to table the surveys and reports showing the current scenario of multiple marriages in the country and discuss it in the Parliament and State Assemblies. Surveys like NFHS show that multiple marriages are on the decline in the country. But the BJP talks of UCC only on electoral platforms thus making it clear that they seek political gain out of it by attempting to divide the society and CM Chouhan is doing the same. We ask him to hold a discussion on the issue during the Assembly session,” Hafeez said. 

The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh has been holding a string of programmes in tribal areas to highlight the fact that the rules of the PESA Act have been recently enacted in the state and it gives the gram sabhas (village bodies) in the fifth schedule tribal areas in the state lot of power to manage and utilize their local resources and land. 

The programmes are part of the BJP strategy to woo the tribal voters ahead of the 2023 polls, given that there are 47 tribal reserved seats in the state; its results play a crucial role in the formation of the government.

Chief Minister Chouhan has been personally attending these programmes and highlighting the point of lands of tribal people being usurped through marriages and religious conversion.

However, he spoke of the UCC implementation in this context for the first time and political watchers feel that rather than the tribals, the political intention is more to send out a message that the government was trying to put effective curbs on the Muslim community. 

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