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As CPIM and Congress oppose UCC, Muslims in Kerala opt for Special Marriage Act to bypass regressive personal law

The glaring inequality in Muslim personal law first came to light in 2023 when actor Shukkur and his wife remarried under SMA so that their daughters could inherit the full share of their property.

Muslims in Kerala are now increasingly marrying under the Special Marriage Act (SMA) to avoid regressive inheritance laws under the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937.

As per a report by The New Indian Express, a total of 277 such marriages were registered in the districts of Thrissur (144) and Kasaragod (133) in the past year. The largest number of registrations (80), under the Special Marriage Act, were made in Anthikad village of Thrissur.

It must be mentioned that under the Muslim personal law in India, a daughter is only entitled [pdf] to a share in property which is half of that of the son. In the event of ‘no son’, only 2/3rd of the property goes to the daughter and the remaining to the Muslim man’s brothers.

The glaring inequality first came to light when actor Shukkur and his wife Sheema remarried in March last year under the Special Marriage Act so that their daughters could inherit the full share of their property.

Since their marriage under SMA, many Muslim couples have followed suit in Thrissur and Kasaragod.

While speaking about the matter to The New Indian Express, Shukkur said, “I sought details of SMA marriages in the state from January 1, 2020, to June 2024, under RTI. On verifying the details received from these two districts, it is clear that a large number of marriages were registered under SMA post March 2023, after the registration of our marriage.”

Shukkur and his family

He emphasised, “Details from other districts are yet to be received. As per the feedback I receive daily, more families with only daughters are now taking the legal route to avert a situation where their daughters fail to get their property after their death.”

“I have been receiving enquiries from within the state and from the USA and the Gulf countries. In fact from wherever Malayalis are living. Many wanted to know about the legal issues,” Shukkur further informed.

Relevance of Special Marriage Act in Equal Inheritance

When a Muslim couple marries under the Special Marriage Act of 1954, they cease to be Muslims for the purpose of inheritance. Thereafter, their property is no longer governed by the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act of 1937.

The inheritance for such a couple is then considered under the Indian Succession Act of 1925 [pdf], which ensures inheritance in property for a man’s widow and children (male and female) equally.

According to The New Indian Express, the number of marriages under SMA stands at – Pazhayannoor (13), Erumapetti (7), Annamanada (7), Andathodu (12), Anthikad (80), Kunnamkulam (18), Mullassery (1), Katoor (6), Uduma (6), Nileshwar (10), Thrikkaripur (44), Rajapuram (8), Kasaragod (19), Mancheswaram (17), Hosdurg (15), and Badiyadka (14).

The cascading effect of Shukkur’s initiative is now being witnessed on the ground. A Malabar-based Islamic scholar told The New Indian Express, “It’s true that such a trend is there in the community. However, being a sensitive issue, it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment. We need to hold further studies into this matter.”

Politics in Kerala over Uniform Civil Code

The implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) would eradicate contradictions in personal laws and ensure social justice in 4 key spheres, including, marriage, divorce, inheritance and succession.

UCC was a key component of BJP’s manifesto for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. However, the two leading political parties in Kerala, namely, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Congress are opposed to uniformity in personal laws.

In July last year, the Congress party opposed the Uniform Civil Code. “We are clear that there can be nothing uniform about all laws. How can the country have the same civil laws for North East, South India, Muslims and Hindus? However, some angularity of individual laws can be looked at,” a party leader was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.

Former Leader of Opposition, V.D. Satheesan, went on record to claim, “The Congress has no ambiguity regarding the UCC. Senior leader Jairam Ramesh had clearly stated the party’s stand as soon as this issue came back to the limelight.”

“The Law Commission had said in 2018 that the UCC should not be implemented under any circumstances. The Congress also has the same position. The UCC is not practical as there are several tribes and communities within each religion, including Hinduism, with their own cultural background and traditions,” he made his party’s stance clear.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which portrays itself as the champion of social justice in India, also opposed the Uniform Civil Code. In fact, the party organised seminars against UCC in Kozhikode in North Kerala.

CPIM chief Sitaram Yechury alleged that the Centre was eyeing to implement UCC to “convert the secular, democratic Republic of India” into “a rabidly intolerant fascist Hindutva Rashtra”.

Conclusion

With no respite in sight against the regressive Muslim personal law and bleak chances of enactment of the Uniform Civil Code, Muslim couples in Kerala are increasingly opting for marriage under SMA to ensure fair and equal inheritance.

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