Social Scientist. v 27, no. 312-313 (May-June 1999) p. 24.


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SOCIAL SCIENTIST

suggests that they may be more tenuous or precarious than is acknowledged.)

In a mode similar to earlier hindu protests upon the introduction of an optional civil law on marriage and divorce, which persisted from the 1860s to the 1950s, muslim religious spokesmen have also repeatedly perceived the very institution of enabling, optional civil laws as threatening. Their objection to the Special Marriage Act (1954) rested on the belief that its presence would encourage muslims to circumvent their religious laws and obligations and they asked for exemptions that were not conceded. A similar demand for exemption was made (along with tribals, and later by a section of parsis) regarding the proposed Adoption of Children Bill (1972). With the notorious Muslim Women's Act, the government helped muslim religious leaders by blocking off the access of divorced muslim women to the minimal yet relatively more liberal provisions for maintenance in the CrPc.8

The hindu right's demand for a uniform civil code in the past decade, as for instance following on a bigamy/conversion judgement in 1995, can also be seen as an attempt to discontinue personal laws so that hindus cannot convert and thereby gain access to Muslim personal law. Its primary target is not bigamy as a patriarchal practice prevalent among hindus, but hindu men gaining legal access to multiple marriage through conversion. In other words, the hindu right objects to hindus choosing to become muslims; it wants to save itself from ideological embarassment (how will it pose as the liberator of muslim women from a patriarchal personal law if hindu men are converting to Islam to practice bigamy?); and it wishes to equalize male privileges.

Hindu opposition to Muslim personal law has most frequently been made (in the past as well as now by the hindu right) on a competitive patriarchal ground of equivalence of male 'rights' *- either the state should encroach on the patriarchal privileges or 'religious rights' of all men or on none - and is suffused with male jealousy.9 The most vociferous opposition to the Hindu Code Bill in the 1940s came from the Hindu Mahasabha; Shyama Prasad Mukherjee proposed a uniform civil code instead but even this code had to be optional!10 A uniform civil code thus was no more than a strategic alibi for the defense of patriarchal privileges by these opponents of the Hindu Code Bill. The prehistory of current hindu male opposition to Muslim personal law lies in the failed attempt to fully protect male privilege in the 1950s enactments. In the debates on the Hindu Code Bill, hindus had not only defended polygamy as having shastric



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