Governance Polity

Suggestions on the Uniform Civil Code are welcome

The 22nd Law Commission of India has requested new proposals on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) from diverse stakeholders, including public and religious organisations.

What exactly is the Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?

  • The UCC seeks to establish a unified personal civil law for the entire country that applies to all religious communities in areas such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, and so on.
  • In India, the concept of a UCC has a long history and has been the subject of debate and controversy.
  • This article examines the rationale for a UCC, its timeline, the tension with the right to religious freedom, minority views, implementation issues, and the way forward.
  • Article 44 of the Directive Principles contemplates the state’s effort to secure a UCC for all citizens throughout the country.
  • While the DPSP of the Constitution are not legally binding, they nonetheless establish fundamental principles for government.

A Timeline for Personal Laws and UCC

  • During the British Raj, personal laws were first drafted for Hindu and Muslim people.
  • The National Planning Commission introduced the notion of a UCC in 1940, after studying women’s position and advocating measures for gender equality.
  • UCC was deemed a fundamental right by Minoo Masani, Hansa Mehta, Amrit Kaur, and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar during the formulation of the Constitution in 1947.
  • 1948: The Constitution Assembly debated Article 44, which emphasises uniform civil law execution as a state duty under Part IV.
  • Reformist legislation was implemented in 1950, providing Hindu women the ability to divorce and inherit property while also prohibiting bigamy and underage marriages.
  • Ambedkar resigned in 1951 because his draught of the Hindu Code Bill was blocked in Parliament.
  • The Shah Bano case in 1985 underlined the necessity for a UCC as well as the rights of divorced Muslim women.
  • Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, decided in 1995, emphasised the importance of a UCC for national cohesion and resolving contradictions.
  • In Lily Thomas v. Union of India, the Supreme Court ruled that it could not order the government to implement a UCC.
  • In 2015, the Supreme Court refused to require a decision on the implementation of a UCC.
  • The Triple Talaq issue gathered traction in 2016, culminating to its unconstitutionality being declared in 2017.

UCC vs. Right to Freedom of Religion

  • Article 25: Guarantees an individual’s fundamental right to religion.
  • Article 26(b): Upholds the right of religious denominations to manage their own affairs.
  • Article 29: Protects the right to conserve distinctive culture.
  • Reasonable restrictions can be imposed on freedom of religion for public order, health, morality, and other provisions related to fundamental rights.

Opinions of Minorities in the Constituent Assembly

  • Some members wanted to insulate Muslim Personal Law from state regulation, citing secularism as an argument against interfering with personal laws.
  • Concerns were raised regarding uniformity in a diverse country like India, as well as the possibility of protest from various communities.
  • Gender justice was not a major topic of discussion throughout these discussions.

UCC Enactment and Enforcement

  • Fundamental rights are legally enforceable, whereas Directive Principles vary in their enforceability.
  • The phrasing of Article 44 suggests that the state has a lower duty than other Directive Principles.
  • Fundamental rights are regarded as more vital than Directive Principles, and striking a balance between the two is critical.

The requirement for UCC

  • Several personal laws: Different religions and denominations have different property and matrimonial laws, which impedes national unity.
  • Absence of exclusive jurisdiction: The absence of such a provision in the Union List shows that the framers did not aim to create a UCC.
  • Customary rules are discriminatory: they differ between communities and regions.

Why is UCC required?

  • Harmonising equality: The UCC would grant equal citizenship to all people, promote gender equality, and correspond with the goals of a liberal and young society.
  • Encourage fraternity: The implementation of the UCC would aid in national integration.

UCC Implementation Obstacles

  • Opposition from religious factions: India’s diverse religious and cultural mix presents practical challenges.
  • Minority opposition: Minorities frequently regard the UCC as an infringement on religious freedom and an intrusion into personal concerns.
  • Experts suggest that Indian society may not be ready to embrace a UCC at the moment.

Unanswered Questions

  • A single size suits all: The belief that one community’s practises are backward or unjust.
  • Ignoring differences: Keeping the essence of society’s different components while achieving uniformity in personal rules.
  • The effectiveness of consistency in reducing socioeconomic disparities is unique to diversity.

Way Forward

  • Religious intelligentsia should educate communities on modern rights, promote open discussion, introduce gradual social reforms, address fake news, and prioritize cultural harmony.

@the end

UCC is a complex issue requiring religious, cultural, and societal perspectives to balance India’s unity and diversity. Education, dialogue, and a gradual approach promote social harmony.

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