Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee: Parliamentary Debate on Hindu Code Bill (Part II)

 Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee: Parliamentary Debate on Hindu Code Bill (Part II)

Source: “Eminent Parliamentarians Monograph Series – Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee” – Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, 1990

We are told very often that our system is backward. I have got with me many extracts from the writings of great Indians and Western scholars who have admired the way in which Hindu society has carried on its existence in spite of tremendous odds and difficulties. I am not for a moment saying that all is well with Hindu society. I know where the defects lie. But it is something amazing, something unprecedented that our religion or the great truths on which Hindus for generations past, for thousands of years, have lived, somehow have shown a degree of adaptability and vitality which is hard to be witnessed anywhere else. What is the reason? The reason is that whatever truths were propounded by the ancient sages or rishis, or commented upon by those who came after them, were not dogmatic in character. Just as the needs of society changed, so also the laws were altered. In a huge country like India which is one politically today – and we would undoubtedly like to see that it grows politically, socially, culturally and economically as one solid nation – at the same time, we cannot forget that in this country dwell thousands and thousands of people in various parts, in towns and in villages, men educated and uneducated, men with vision and with no vision, and they have built up a structure of their own, consistent with individual and social progress and welfare. Somehow that society has developed. Do you find any other country in this world where inspite of tremendous onslaughts the social structure has remained one? 

India passed through seven hundred years of Muslim rule. Now, many theories were propounded during that period which in the context of today’s circumstances may appear to be rather conservative. But they were dictated by considerations for the preservation and consolidation of the society as such and that is how those particular principles were propounded by the masters who were in no circumstance less qualified to speak on matters with which they dealt than any of us sitting in this Parliament today. 

From time to time, various movements came into this country. Reference has been made to Brahmo Samaj and Arya Samaj. It appears that whenever the society was becoming stagnant, was becoming conservative, some outstanding personality raised his head in this land and drew upon the great sources, the fountainhead of Indian knowledge, the Vedas or the Upanishads, gave their own interpretation and thereby tried to check the growth of the evils of conservatism or the moral decay of the society. But what has happened today? The ideology for which the Brahmo Samaj stood in this country, say, about a hundred years ago has practically been absorbed by the Hindu society. 

The other day we were discussing Buddhism, a matter on which Dr. Ambedkar naturally would be the best authority to speak. But in any case, I have something to do with the Maha Sodhi Society. I happen to be its President, without being a Buddhist.  I am a Hindu and yet I am its President because I have liberality enough to admit the greatness of Buddhism and yet remain a Hindu. The point I was about to develop was this. There were friends who came from outside India and they asked with a tone of complaint, “Well, India was the land of birth of Buddha, but India killed Buddhism”. I do not wish to go into those controversial matters now. But one point comes out very prominently and that is that when Buddha started preaching his great doctrines India needed Buddha, not only to save the world but to save India. And Buddha succeeded in checking the growth of certain tendencies which were about to destroy the very life-blood of Hindu civilization. Hence Buddha has been absorbed by the same Hindus as an avatar. Although there were people in India who fought with Buddhism – whether they were right or wrong is a matter into which I need not enter now – but gradually it was realized that Buddhism was a factor of growth on Indian soil and had to be absorbed in Indian culture. 

So far as Buddhism is concerned it went and spread in other countries. But the tenets of Buddhism were gradually absorbed in Hindu ideology. The reason why I am saying all this is to show that we should never tolerate any criticism from any quarter, especially from a foreign quarter when they say that Hindu civilization or Hindu culture has been of a static nature or of a stagnant nature or of a decadent nature. There is something in our culture and civilization which is of a dynamic character and which has lived from generation to generation. Even when India was a subject nation, people who were born in this country, men of our soil, who stood up for great ideals which gave a new lease of life under new and modern conditions to the eternal tenets of Hindu civilization. This code is destroying that fountain-source. I shudder to think of the effect of clause 4. You read clause 4 of the Hindu Code. You are closing the door there. You are saying that except such manners or customs which might have been recognized in the body of this Code, everything else will be taboo from today. It is these manners and customs, based upon the ancient ideology, which allowed the Hindu society to grow and prosper from time to time.

Today, this great Assembly – and all of us are honourable and learned men – is solemnly deciding that we are the fountain-head of Indian religion and Indian culture, and whatever we decide to embody in this Code is final for the time being and nothing else will be allowed to be looked into by judges and courts. Does not the House know that even in 1951, after the attainment of Independence, our own Supreme Court had to draw from the original texts or their interpretations and give their verdict on cases where questions of Hindu law were under consideration because they could not get any analogy from judicial decisions or text-books? You are killing today the very fountain source of your religion which had given such a wide scope to generations of people, to make it a living reality, and you say that it is a forward measure; it is a backward measure; it is a measure which does not help anybody at all; it only helps in dividing the country. I do not wish to ascribe any motive to anybody. Anyone who may be supporting it or proposing it may be acting with the highest motives. I am prepared to admit that but what I would like to say is this: Do not give compulsory effect to the provisions in respect of all people. Divorce is not compulsory but the breaking away of the sacramental ties of Hindu marriage will be compulsory and that is bad enough. Whether divorce comes or not is a different question altogether; you are violently changing customs and convictions. Somebody said that south India was especially progressive and many of the laws which we are considering are already in existence there today. I say good luck to south India. Let south India proceed from progress to progress, from divorce to divorce. I have absolutely no quarrel with south India, but why force it on others who do not want it. In fact, I have got a letter with me. I received it only two days ago-it is a postcard and I do not know the gentleman who wrote it. 

Here is this gentleman who writes: 

The Bill as published in the Hindu Law contains a provision rendering the marriages between a girl and her maternal uncle void as being within the prohibited degree. The aforesaid custom is widely prevalent in Andhra and Tamil Nadu and even Brahmins considered maternal uncles of girls to be the most eligible and suitable bridegrooms for their girls. The prohibition is not known perhaps to lawyers and to others. I am sure that the vast majority of our people are ignorant of it in which case marriages celebrated in ignorance of this provision would operate as a severe hardship. I, therefore, request you to move an amendment.

I do not know why they had selected me in particular and not written to Dr. Ambedkar. He further writes – 

saving the custom from the prohibition or fixing sufficient time to elapse before the chapter on marriage. can be brought into force.” 

This is just by the way for those who were talking about the progressive nature of the people living in those territories. Naturally, they have gone very far ahead. 

This is only a point of view. I am not challenging the wisdom or unwisdom of any State. It might have been followed by lakhs and millions of people in this vast country. Naturally, customs might have developed in a particular manner. My proposal boils down to this. You do not make this Code applicable to all – I am talking of marriage and divorce for the time being – but leave it open to those who will be married in future to make a declaration that they would like’ to be governed by these provisions and not be governed by the consequences of dharmic marriage; you leave it open to them to do so. That covers the cases of those who come in future. We are not legislating, I suppose for the purpose of helping the dissolution of marriage of the existing Members of Parliament. We are looking to the future; we are thinking of handing over something to the future generation, whereby they can live in peace and with greater comfort. But supposing you want to apply it to those who are already married.

There also you can make a provision. Supposing you want to apply it to all who are already married, there I will give a solution. You leave it open to anybody, say, within a period of one or two years to register his decision whether he/she would like to be governed by this Code to opt for it if you can use that language. Well, ‘everywhere’ I do not approve for this reason that you are deciding something for others for which you have no right today. You are passing a law whereby you are saying that the dharmic form of marriage will continue as now without any modification or alteration and the other form of marriage also is open to people who would like to take advantage of it. Let the people in future make their choice. There is no compulsion and for existing people, you may give a time-limit or you may not give a time limit. You can say that if any particular party desires to be governed by the provision of this Code, such persons may make a declaration before the Registrar or Registrar General or Director General or whoever he may be and get the relief as is provided for in the Code. I ask in all seriousness what is it that you lose thereby? What you gain thereby is that you do not break the unity of the country. You destroy the indissoluble nature of Hindu marriage which is regarded as solemn and sacred by millions of people. Many people in this House may not agree. I am not quarrelling with those people who believe that marriage is a bilateral arrangement, that it is nothing but a matter of contract: I have nothing to say against them if there are people who hold that view. Let them hold it, but there are those who hold the contrary view, who genuinely and sincerely believe that this system which has been in vogue for thousands of years is something sacred, something deep-rooted in their traditions and religion. What right have you to sit in this House and say that you want by one stroke of the pen to take this great right away? 

Believe me, rightly or wrongly, this country has been divided tremendously on this Hindu Code Bill. I do not wish that it should be so. I want that we should go on the path of progress and make reforms in our social structure. But, we will do it in such a way that we can carry the bulk of the people with us, not carry them by force in this House or carry them by threats of sweeping agitation outside, but carry them by appealing to their logic and to their conviction. 

Sandhya Krishnan

Sandhya Krishnan is a Chennai based finance professional who is extremely passionate about history and literature.

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