What is a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) ?
- Article 44 of the Constitution, a Directive Principle, declares that the State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India.
- While there is a criminal code applicable to all irrespective of religion, caste, tribe and domicile in the country, there is no similar code while dealing with respect to divorce and succession which are governed by Personal Laws. The UCC seeks to administer the same set of secular civil laws to govern all people.
- Shah Bano Case, 1985– She had moved the SC seeking maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure after her husband divorced her. The court directed the Parliament to frame a Uniform Civil Code to help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to law.
- Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, 1995 – The SC remarked, ” Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, while defending the introduction of the Hindu Code Bill instead of a Uniform Civil Code, in the Parliament in 1954, said, ‘I do not think that at the present moment the time is ripe in India for me to try to push it through’. It appears that even 41 years thereafter, the Rulers of the day are not in a mood to retrieve Article 44 from the cold storage where it is lying since 1949. The reasons are too obvious to be stated. The utmost that has been done is to codify the Hindu Law in the form of the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955; the Hindu Succession Act ,1956; the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956; and the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956 which have replaced the traditional Hindu law based on different schools of thought and scriptural laws into one unified code. When more than 80 percent of the citizens have already been brought under the codified personal law, there is no justification whatsoever to keep in abeyance, any more, the introduction of a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens.”
- John Vallamattom v. Union of India, 2003 – The SC observed, ” It is a matter of regret that Article 44 of the Constitution has not been given effect to. Parliament is still to step in for framing a common civil code in the country.”
- The Supreme Court on October 16,2015 directed the registration of a suo moto PIL plea titled ‘Muslim women’s quest for equality’ and ordered it to be placed before a three-judge bench for adjudication.
- Subsequently, a number of petitions were filed in the Supreme Court by Muslim women against their personal law.
- One of them, Shayara Bano, had said that she only wished to “secure a life of dignity, unmarred by dicrimination on the basis of gender or religion.”
- The Modi Government in a first has referred the Uniform Civil Code to the Law Commission
- Each community has its own traditions and practices, which together make up our country’s diversity. The UCC goes against this diversity.
- The framers of the Constitution had promised that the UCC will not be imposed by force. They were fully conscious of the difficulties in enforcing a UCC and thus refrained from enforcing it.
- Even the British did not try to codify Personal Laws based on religion and any attempt to bring in a common codification of laws would be tantamount to the State’s interference in religious affairs, particularly of the minorities.
- The Muslims have accepted the criminal laws in all matters but the government should not interfere in their personal laws when there are so many important issues ailing the country.
- The apex court should not interfere with personal laws under the guise of reforming the society. How can the court decide that a particular religion needs reform and another religion is already reformed.
- Article 44 of the Constitution which mentions a Uniform Civil Code is a Directive Principle and hence not enforceable unlike the Fundamental Rights.
- The personal laws are protected by Article 25, 26 and 29 of the Constitution as they are acts done in pursuance of a religion.
- Since India is a secular, democratic republic and since its constitution guarantees minorities the right to follow their own religion, culture and customs, implementing a common code of personal laws would go against India’s secular fabric.
- This is not the appropriate time to enforce such a code. Personal laws cannot be withdrawn by force as they constitute the most intimate emotions of an individual.
- Social reform has to be brought in gradually, keeping in view if the community is ready for it. A step by step approach towards uniformity of rights would be a better strategy, since the enactment of a UCC appears to be entrapped in communally vitiated identity politics.
- The rights of Muslim women are already protected by virtue of Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986 which has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
- Is it wise to have one overarching law that will be opposed by every community and eventually will neither be uniform nor gender-just? Or would the concept of uniformity of rights across laws more suitable to ensure gender justice and fulfill the constitutional mandate of Article 44?
- There is an assumption that ushering in a UCC will pave the way for national integration and strengthen secularism in the country.
- It would help end gender discrimination on religious grounds.
- Dr B.R Ambedkar also said, ” I personally do not understand why religion should be given this vast, expansive jurisdiction so as to cover the whole of life and to prevent the Legislature from encroaching upon that field. After all, what are we having this liberty for? We are having this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is full of inequities, discrimination and other things which conflict with our fundamental rights.”
- The concept of a UCC is not aimed against any particular religion or its customs, but to prevent oppression in the name of religion. It would naturally be based on internationally accepted principles of jurisprudence and would go a long way in providing a sense of security to people of various religions.
- Almost all Muslim countries the world over, such as, Morocco (Rabat), Tunisia (Tunis), Turkey (Ankara), Egypt (Cairo), Jordan (Amman) and even Bangladesh (Dhaka) and Pakistan (Islamabad) have codified personal laws governing marriage and family matters, Indian Muslims are denied this opportunity. As a result, there are instances of triple talaq and polygamy in our society.
A Uniform Civil Code to put in place a set of laws to govern personal matters of all citizens irrespective of religion, ensuring that their fundamental and constitutional rights are protected, is perhaps the need of the hour and a cornerstone of true secularism.
However, it can be implemented only when there is widespread acceptance from all religious denominations after discussing all the pros and cons as no decision, however reformatory, could be forced on the people without their acceptance. All misunderstanding have to be addressed before making any progress on this issue.