Uniform Civil Code: Balancing Tradition and Modernity
- 31 Dec 2022
- 12 min read
This article is based on “Uniform Civil Code: Reframe the debate” which was published in Hindustan Times on 27/12/2022. It talks about Uniform Civil Code in India and the need of gender-just civil code.
The idea of a Uniform Civil Code has been debated in India for decades, and it has been a longstanding demand of some political and social reform movements. The UCC was included as a Directive Principle in the Indian Constitution, which means that it is not legally enforceable, but is considered a guiding principle for the government to follow.
The UCC is a divisive issue in India, with proponents arguing that it would promote equality and secularism, and opponents arguing that it would interfere with religious freedoms and cultural practices.
Overall, the debate over the UCC in India highlights the complex and sensitive relationship between law, religion, and culture in the country that should be scrutinised from a detached point of view and should be addressed in a phased and holistic manner.
What is Uniform Civil Code?
- The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a proposed legal framework in India that would codify and apply a set of uniform laws related to personal matters such as marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance to all citizens, regardless of their religion.
- The code comes under Article 44 of the Constitution, which lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India.
What is the Status of Personal Laws in India?
- Personal law subjects like marriage, divorce, inheritance come under Concurrent list.
- 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
- This Code Bill has been split into four parts:
- On the other hand, Shariat law of 1937 governs all personal matters of Indian Muslims in India.
- It clearly states that the State shall not interfere in matters of personal disputes, and a religious authority would make a declaration based on his interpretation of the Quran and Hadith.
What are the Arguments in Favour of Uniform Civil Code in India?
- Step Towards Gender Equality: Personal laws in India often discriminate against women, particularly in matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, and custody.
- A uniform civil code would help to eliminate such discrimination and promote gender equality.
- Simplicity and Clarity of Laws: A uniform civil code would simplify the legal system by replacing the current patchwork of personal laws with a single set of rules that apply to everyone.
- This would make the law more accessible and easier to understand for all citizens.
- Uniformity and Consistency: A uniform civil code would ensure consistency in the application of the law, as it would apply equally to everyone. This would reduce the risk of discrimination or inconsistency in the application of the law.
- It would eliminate discrimination based on religion or personal laws, and ensure that everyone has the same rights and protections under the law.
- Modernization and Reform: A uniform civil code would allow for the modernization and reform of India's legal system, as it would provide an opportunity to update and harmonise the laws with contemporary values and principles.
- Meeting the Aspirations of the Youth: With the world moving into the digital age, the social attitude and aspirations of the youth are being influenced by universal and global principles of equality, humanity, and modernity.
- The enactment of the Uniform Civil Code will help to maximise their potential in nation-building.
- Social harmony: The UCC could help to reduce tension and conflict between different religious or community groups by providing a common set of rules for everyone to follow.
What are the Arguments Against Uniform Civil Code in India?
- Religious and Cultural Diversity: India is a diverse country with a rich tapestry of religions, cultures, and traditions.
- A uniform civil code could be seen as a threat to this diversity, as it would require the abandonment of personal laws that are specific to particular religious or cultural communities.
- Against the Right to Freedom of Religion: The right to freedom of religion is protected under the Indian Constitution. (Article 25-28)
- Some argue that a uniform civil code would infringe on this right, as it would require individuals to follow laws that may not be in accordance with their religious beliefs and practices.
- Lack of Consensus: There is a lack of consensus among the various religious and cultural communities in India on the issue of a uniform civil code.
- This makes it difficult to implement such a code, as it would require the buy-in and support of all communities.
- Practical Challenges: There are also practical challenges to implementing a uniform civil code in India, such as the need to harmonise a wide range of laws and practices, and the potential for conflicts with other provisions of the Constitution.
- Political Sensitivity: The issue of a uniform civil code is a highly sensitive and politicised issue in India, and it has often been used for political gain by various parties.
- This has made it difficult to address the issue in a constructive and non-divisive manner.
What are the Efforts Towards UCC in India?
- Special Marriage Act, 1954: Under the Special Marriage Act of 1954, civil marriage is permitted for any citizen, regardless of religion, allowing any Indian to get married outside of religious custom.
- Shah Bano Case 1985: In this case, Shah Bano was refused her claim for maintenance. The Supreme Court ruled in her favour under Section 125 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which applied to all citizens the order for maintenance of wives, children and parents.
- The Supreme Court further recommended that the long pending Uniform Civil Code should be finally enacted.
- The Supreme Court also called on the government to implement the UCC in the 1995 Sarla Mudgal judgement as well as in the Paulo Coutinho vs Maria Luiza Valentina Pereira case (2019).
What Should be the Way Forward?
- Brick by Brick Approach: In order to achieve a UCC in India, a brick-by-brick approach should be taken rather than an omnibus approach. A just code is far more important than a uniform code.
- Checking the Social Adaptability: There is a need to consider social adaptability of UCC while forming a blueprint for a uniform civil code.
- Starting with the areas of personal law that are most widely accepted and uncontroversial, such as laws related to marriage and divorce.
- This could help to build consensus and support for the UCC, while also addressing some of the most pressing issues faced by citizens.
- Discussion and Deliberations with Stakeholders: Also, involving a broad range of stakeholders, including religious leaders, legal experts, and community representatives, in the process of developing and implementing the UCC.
- This could help to ensure that the UCC takes into account the diverse perspectives and needs of different groups, and that it is seen as fair and legitimate by all citizens.
Drishti Mains Question
Examine the arguments in favour of and against the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code in India, and evaluate the potential impact of such a code on the country's social and political landscape.