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EXCLUSIVE! It's women who suffer the most; UCC is need of the hour: Uttarakhand Speaker Ritu Khanduri Bhushan

Uttarakhand Speaker Ritu Khanduri Bhushan, speaking exclusively to Asianet Newsable's Anish Kumar, said that the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in Uttarakhand was the need of the hour and will empower both women and the society.

Lok Sabha Elections 2024: EXCLUSIVE It's women who suffer the most; UCC is need of the hour: Uttarakhand Speaker Ritu Khanduri Bhushan
First Published Apr 6, 2024, 2:21 PM IST

Uttarakhand recently became the first state in India post-Independence to enact the Uniform Civil Code law. The passage of the Uniform Civil Code Bill 2024 -- fulfilling a longstanding commitment of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its government in Uttarakhand -- and its ratification by President Droupadi Murmu, has ignited an intense discussion regarding its necessity and the agenda behind introducing it. With the Lok Sabha election process kicking off, the Uniform Civil Code is today at the centre of political discourse in the country. Dismissing criticisms of the UCC being a Hindu-centric imposition, Uttarakhand Assembly Speaker Ritu Khanduri Bhushan told Asianet Newsable Correspondent Anish Kumar why the legislation is the need of the hour today.

Uttarakhand implemented a Uniform Civil Code law under your speakership. What was the need for bringing this legislation?

First, I would like to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi for being an inspiration to not only all of us but also to our young chief minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami. And that inspiration came to us and the chief minister decided that the Uniform Civil Code was the need of the time. In India, there are many religions, castes and classes. The weakest link is always the women who suffer. She bears the brunt if there is a divorce. She bears the brunt if it is a live-in relationship. So I feel UCC coming at this juncture is a way of empowering our women. Women have been, for a long time, considered as a vote bank. Their voices were not heard. So when our prime minister and our chief minister said that we are going to give you property rights it is something I should have got 70 years ago but it has taken 70 years for a political system to come to this. 

Similarly, there are divorce rights in this country. There are some religions that even today when girls start menstruating, they consider them as being of marriageable age. Do you think it is right in the 21st century? I don’t think so. We do not live in the dark ages. So the provision like this is made in the UCC not only empowering our women we are also empowering our society.

Was there any data/statistic that necessitated the bringing of the law?

Absolutely, data and statistics are one thing which I am sure the government has had. But I also live in a society and so do you. We have seen the suffering of the women. When the prime minister said that 'talaq, talaq, talaq' would be abolished, the women were the happiest. So if the prime minister or the chief minister has decided that UCC is the need of the time, it is based on statistics and based on what is required in society today.

Opposition leaders and minorities have alleged that it's a Hindu code, which has been imposed on everyone. How do you see this criticism?

I don’t think so. I think we should stop looking at everything politically. The UCC is excellent; it will empower women. Yes, it will empower the society. It is something a young state like Uttarakhand has come out with. We are 'Devbhoomi' and we have become a leader in UCC. This is not the end of it. If there is a need for changes, of course, the amendments can be made. At the same time, I would like to thank our President because she had ratified it and now it is a law in Uttarakhand.

Under the UCC, live-in partners will have to undergo the mandatory registration and potential criminalisation of the relationships. Don’t you think it infringes upon the fundamental rights of individuals? It violates their right to privacy and freedom of choice.

These are the words, which are spoken in Delhi. Have you seen how women are misled and taken for a ride? She doesn’t know what she is getting into. Who faces the brunt? It is the girl. If you are old enough to decide that you want to live with somebody in a live-in relationship. We have no issues. You need to own it up and you need to take a decision to tell it to society. Why do you need it to hide it? Why is 'hoo-ha' being made in the bigger states? Go to villages and see how difficult it is for young women and how they are taken for a ride; how they are taken to live with these young boys and they just run away; how they change their religion, get into a live-in relationship and are just left high and dry.

So I do not think there is any infringement of privacy. If you are old enough to say that you want to stay in a live-in relationship, this is the 21st century -- please tell your parents and everybody that you want to be in a live-in relationship. What is wrong with it?

The law is not only binding for the people living in the state but also for those who are living outside the territories. How would this mechanism work?

This is for the citizens of Uttarakhand. Whosoever marries a Uttarakhand boy or girl, this is the decision that will be applicable to them. I am sure that this is soon going to come into the entire country. Let's see what happens. Yes, we need to protect our citizens. So it is done to protect the citizens of Uttarakhand.

In some cases, we have seen students enter into live-in partnerships just to share their rent. What will happen in such cases?

If it is not a live-in relationship or you just want to share a room in an apartment, then you need to tell. People understand it is a free society and it is 21st century India. You just tell people that we are not in a live-in relationship. I don’t think people will raise any eyebrows.

Will UCC implementation have a bearing on the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?

I am very happy that UCC came under the leadership of our young chief minister and I am also thankful to the people of Uttarakhand that they supported us in this. It is of course empowering women, empowering the society. If people think that this is the right direction in developing India, in 2047 what we see is Developed India. I think that it is a strong pillar for that. So if it works in the election that’s great.

Elections are around the corner, Uttarakhand has four seats in Lok Sabha. What would be the agenda in the upcoming elections? What is the sense you are getting from the ground?

I am so happy that I joined politics in 2017 and since then a major platform has been 'development'. We do not talk of caste, we do not talk of vote banks, we do not talk of religion, we talk of development and I have seen this change in Uttarakhand. Women, men and youngsters now want to know what is the vision we have for the people of Uttarakhand. We will win all five seats not because Narendra Modi is the prime minister of the country but because he has worked for every part of the society in Uttarakhand whether it is women, whether it is youngsters or tribals. He has touched every heart. I am pretty sure it is going to be 5-0.

Uttarakhand has a huge number of central government employees. The demand for the old pension scheme is growing and even the opposition has assured that they will implement it if they come to power. Do you think it would impact the BJP’s performance?

This is the decision that the government takes. All aspects are first discussed. I am sure that the right decision will be taken by the government at the right time.

Uttarakhand has been sending a huge number of youths into the armed forces. Has there been any change post-implementation of the Agnipath scheme, which is just for 4 years?

I come from an Army background and I keep telling people that if I am getting an opportunity in the Indian Army for four years in my formative years -- I am not going at the age of 40 -- I get in at a very young age. In those formative years, if I am able to get a certain lifestyle which will help me, build my future whether it is discipline or working for the country. The Army gives you a well-rounded personality. It helps you to be a much better citizen. So if in those four years, I am able to get that and also get some salary, I am appreciative of the Agniveer or Agnipath scheme. Of course, some people would say that it is only for four years. But if you do well, you will be absorbed in the forces. But I still feel those four years we need to understand how to build the character of citizens of future India.

How do you view Rajnath Singh's recent statement that he is open to reviewing the Agnipath scheme? How will it impact aspirants from your state? Is it an admission that all is not well with the scheme?

I really appreciate Rajnath Singh for stating that if things need to be changed, we could consider it. The society is flowing like a river. Things keep changing. Every minute there is change; nothing is permanent. If he is saying that we will look into it, we will again sit on it and decide if changes are needed we will do it. I think it's excellent if he said something like this.

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