Uniform Civil Code stands to be one of the most debated topic of the recent times in India. Considered a dream by our founding fathers of the Constitution, UCC still remains a far-off vision to be fulfilled by the law-makers. The issue gained momentum after the landmark judgement of the Supreme Court on Shah Bano Case (1985), emphasizing on the need of UCC. The law might prove to be a weapon for strengthening the sense of secularism present in the country by governing all citizens through a uniform law in matters relating to marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance and maintenance irrespective of their religious affiliations. The judiciary will be empowered to provide equal justice to all citizens while deciding laws with the help of such a uniform law. Women, the main victims of the existing diversified personal laws as seen in a number of judicial cases in the past, will be treated equally under the Code. Hence, gender discrimination can also be eradicated through the law and Right to Equality will serve its true purpose. UCC is still a bone of contention among various political and religious groups. Some fear that it may limit their Right of Freedom of Religion (Article 25-28), believing that their personal laws will completely be done away with. However, it is important for the government to take a calculative decision and come up with a proposal or law that benefits all the citizens and adds to the vibrance of the democratic and secular functioning of India.
India, a fine example of unity in diversity, is now in the grip of the diversifying religious or personal laws of different communities throughout the country. Entering it’s 75th year of independence, India has still been unable to secure a Uniform Civil Code for its citizens. Article 44 lays down that “The State shall endeavour to ensure for its citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” The article finds its place in Part IV of the Indian Constitution under the Directive Principles of State Policy, which are certain guiding principles to be incorporated by the law makers in the governance of the country. The Uniform Civil Code is a proposal to formulate and implement common personal laws relating to marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance and adoption for all citizens equally irrespective of their religion. At present, all citizens are governed according to their personal laws on the aforementioned aspects. They derive these laws from their religious texts and have been given a legal status.
The incumbent BJP government is strongly supporting the Uniform Civil Code, with many of its leaders like Pushkar Singh Dhami, Chief Minister of Uttarakhand taking actions towards a Uniform Civil Code. However, there are still some who are against such a law. Recently, the AIMPLB (All India Muslim Personal Law Board) termed UCC as “unconstitutional and anti-minority” and strongly opposed any legislation on this issue.
Upholding the Spirit of Secularism
The Preamble proclaims India to be a “Secular State” and the Constitution itself provides for Right to Freedom of Religion under Article 25-28. Practising and propagating our respective religions is a fundamental right. However, the personal laws of the religions seem to be regressive in nature. We see religious divide in the Indian society and communal politics limiting the need for reforms in the social structure of the country. Each religion is determined to uphold it’s personal laws, not taking into account the negative aspects of the same that will hamper their growth in the society. There exists a constant debate over Uniform Civil Code interfering with the Right to Freedom of Religion, accompanied by fear of majoritarianism if such a law is enforced. Minority communities fear their religion and laws will be undermined under this Code. However, before implementing any such law, the government needs to build a trust among its citizens that Uniform Civil Code will not interfere with their right to practice their religion and that equal recognition would be given to positive aspects of every religious law.
Easing the Judicial Process
The Indian legal system is struggling to provide justice to all citizens due to the presence of such multifarious personal laws of people belonging to different religions. There is absence of uniformity in these laws and hence the judiciary encounters trouble while dispensing justice. In certain landmark judgements and cases, the judiciary has time and again, highlighted the need of a Uniform Civil Code. The Shah Bano Case (1985) questioning the maintenance rights for Muslim women as compared to those of women of other religions, the Sarla Mugdal Case (1995) questioning the issue of bigamy and conflicting personal laws of different religion are some cases which show how unjust and rigid these personal laws can be, especially for women. Almost every personal law has certain gender discriminatory provisions imbibed in it, therefore making women innocent victims of such discrimination. Hence, Right to Equality (Article 14) suffers at the cost of this religious conservatism. For example, while a Hindu woman under the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act (1956) can seek maintenance after divorce, a Muslim woman has only limited right (example, receiving maintenance only during the ‘iddat’ period) under the Muslim Personal Law, hence highlighting the existing inequalities faced by women under their personal laws. The personal laws come under conflict with the fundamental right of equality to all citizens, under the garb of upholding their religious freedom. However, completely ignoring the issue of womens’ rights involved in the issue of UCC, it has been engraved into themes of national unity and communal identity. A uniform law will help in mitigating the problems, especially those of women, faced by the judiciary and provide equal justice to all- “A common Civil Code will help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to laws which have conflicting ideologies…”(Supreme court’s observation during the Shah Bano Case)
Politics Surrounding the Law
Communal politics is also serving as bulwark against formulation of a law on UCC. Religion has now become a weapon for the politicians to satisfy their vote bank politics. Instead of enlightening the people about the importance of this codification and how it will simplify the justice delivery without hindering their right under Article 25, religious propagandas used by politicians is only escalating the communal problem in the country. It is also argued that the prevailing social environment of India is not conducive for realising a uniform law, looking at how religious riots have taken place in the country in the past (example, the Gujarat riots, the Delhi riots). People fear that the State will interfere in their religious matters and will restrict their freedom in this aspect. The BJP government has stated Uniform Civil Code as one of its main aims and clearly mentions the same in its manifesto. The Union Law Minister recently stated in the Parliament that the 22nd Law Commission would take up the issue of Uniform Civil Code and that it requires an in-depth study of the various personal laws. The example of Uniform civil code practiced in Goa is considered to be a “shining example of UCC” as stated by the Supreme Court while praising the law in the state. However, UCC in Goa as well is defected as it discriminates on grounds of gender, one example being, allowing polygamy among Hindus. It is necessary to dig deep into the personal laws so as to avoid any sensitive issue going unrecognised while framing the law.
India is rapidly growing as a global power. It is important to bring out the prejudices and stereotypes present in these personal laws and be refined into a progressive uniform law. Securing the most fundamental or integral part of their religious laws can be acceptable, but overshadowing the importance of fundamental rights of an individual for the sake of religious propagation, is not a positive approach in the development of the country. India is a land of religious diversity. Respecting each of them is what a secular state stands for, and a uniform law will only strengthen this spirit of secularism if formulated and implemented in a manner suitable to all communities.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.