Uniform Civil Code

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  • The issue of the Uniform Civil Code has emerged into India’s political discourse recently mainly because many Muslim women, affected adversely by the personal laws, have begun knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court to uphold their fundamental rights to equality and liberty in keeping with constitutional provisions
  • The Union law ministry has recently asked the law commission to examine the matters in relation to the implementation of the uniform civil code

What is the Uniform Civil Code?

  • The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India proposes to replace the personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in the country with a common set governing every citizen
  • These laws cover subjects such as public law and cover marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, maintenance, etc.

Constitutional Provisions

  • The constitution has a provision for Uniform Civil Code in Article 44 as a Directive Principle of State Policy which states that “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India

Historical Perspective

  • Pre-Independence (colonial era)
    • The Lex Loci Report of October 1840– It stressed the importance and necessity of uniformity in the codification of Indian law, relating to crimes, evidence, and contract. But, it also recommended that the personal laws of Hindus and Muslims should be kept outside such codification.
    • The Queen’s 1859 Proclamation– It promised absolute non-interference in religious matters.
    • So while criminal laws were codified and became common for the whole country, personal laws continue to be governed by separate codes for different communities.
  • Post-Colonial era (1947-1985)
    • During the drafting of the constitution, prominent leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. B.R Ambedkar pushed for a uniform civil code. However, they included the UCC in the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP, Article 44) mainly due to opposition from religious fundamentalists and a lack of awareness among the masses during the time

Status of Personal Law in India

  • Personal law subjects like marriage, divorce, inheritance come under the Concurrent List.
  • Hindu personal laws have been by and largely secularized and modernized by statutory enactments.
    • The Hindu personal laws (that apply also to the Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists) have been codified by the Parliament in 1956
    • This Code Bill has been split into four parts:
      • The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955
      • The Hindu Succession Act, 1956
      • The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956
      • The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956
  • On the other hand, Muslim personal laws are still primarily unmodified and traditional in their content and approach.
    • The Shariat law of 1937 governs the personal matters of all Indian Muslims in India.
    • It clearly states that in matters of personal disputes, the State shall not interfere and religious authority would pass a declaration based on his interpretations of the Quran and the Hadith.
  • Apart from it, Christians and Jews are also governed by different personal laws

Need for Uniform Civil Code in India

  • Different personal laws promote communalism and it leads to discrimination at two levels:
    • First, between people of different religions
    • Second, between the two sexes
  • To provide equal status to all citizens: In the modern era, a secular democratic republic should have common civil and personal laws for its citizens irrespective of their religion, class, caste, gender, etc.
  • To promote gender parity: It is commonly observed that personal laws of almost all religions are discriminatory towards women. Men are usually granted upper preferential status in matters of succession and inheritance. Uniform civil code will bring both men and women at par
  • To accommodate the aspirations of the young population: A contemporary India is a totally new society with 55% of its population is below 25 years of age. Their social attitudes and aspirations are shaped by universal and global principles of equality, humanity, and modernity. Their view of shedding identity on the basis of any religion has to be given serious consideration so as to utilize their full potential towards nation-building
  • To support the national integration: All Indian citizens are already equal before the court of law as the criminal laws and other civil laws (except personal laws) are the same for all. With the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code, all citizens will share the same set of personal laws. There will be no scope of politicization of issues of the discrimination or concessions or special privileges enjoyed by a particular community on the basis of their particular religious personal laws
  • To bypass the contentious issue of reform of existing personal laws: Existing personal laws are mainly based on the upper-class patriarchal notions of the society in all religions. The demand for UCC is normally made by aggrieved women as a substitute for existing personal laws as patriarchal orthodox people still deem the reforms in personal laws will destroy their sanctity and oppose it profusely

Challenges with Uniform Civil Code

  • Constitutional challenges
    • Freedom of religion gets into conflict with the right to equality.
    • Article 25 lays down an individual’s fundamental right to religion.
    • Article 26(b) upholds the right of each religious denomination or any section thereof to “manage its own affairs in matters of religion”
    • Article 29 defines the right to conserve a distinctive culture.
    • These rights get into conflict with equality before law enshrined under Articles 14 and 15.
    • Moreover, an individual’s freedom of religion under Article 25 is subject to “public order, health, morality”.
    • In 2018, a report by the Law Commission of India stated that the Uniform Civil Code is “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage” in the country. The Commission said secularism cannot contradict the plurality prevalent in the country.
  • Social-political challenges
    • In the name of uniformity, the minorities fear that the culture of the majority is being imposed over them.
    • Given vast cultural diversity in India, bringing uniformity among all such people will be a huge challenge.
    • The patriarchal mindset of Indian society poses a big challenge in the implementation of UCC.
    • This can be reflected by the fact that the Hindu code bill has been already in place from the mid-1950s, yet the quantum of land actually inherited by Hindu women is only a fraction of the land they are entitled