Why India must implement a Uniform Civil Code

·Columnist
·4-min read

The Delhi High Court recently observed that there was a need for the Uniform Civil Code in India, given the changing paradigms in the society, and asked the Centre to take the necessary steps in this regard. This has again brought the contentious issue centrestage.

A war of words broke out on Twitter between supporters and opposers of the UCC.

In its election manifesto for 2014 as well as 2019 general elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party reiterated its commitment to implement UCC if it comes to power.

‘BJP believes that there cannot be gender equality till such time India adopts a UCC, which protects the rights of all women, and the BJP reiterates its stand to draft a Uniform Civil Code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonizing them with the modern times,’ the BJP manifesto says.

UCC means having one set of identical personal laws applicable to all citizens of India irrespective of caste/creed/community dealing with right to property, personal matters like marriage, maintenance, adoption, inheritance and divorce. Goa is the only state in the county which has a UCC.

Proponents of UCC argue:

(i) As per Article 44, UCC is one of the directive principles which has been laid down by the constitution. "The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India."

(ii) Minorities have agreed to a uniform criminal law, then why not a civil law.

(iii) Minorities have agreed to a UCC in many countries like Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

(iv) If India is a secular country, why not secular laws for the population?

Opponents argue:

(i) It is only a directive principle and shall not be enforceable by any court (Article 37).

(ii) It interferes with Article 25 which guarantees citizens the right to freedom of religion.

Counter: Article 25 of the Constitution states, "Nothing in this article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law regulating or restricting any financial, economic, political or other secular activity which may be associated with religious practice."

(iii) Many other directives have not been converted into a law after 70 years of Independence.

(iv) UCC is sort of an imposition by the majority community to preach reforms to the minority community through changes in personal laws.

The BJP and the Left parties are supportive of a UCC, while the Congress, some regional political parties and representative bodies of minorities have been opposing the same.

The Congress forgets that India's first Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru was supportive of a UCC but ultimately buckled under pressure.

Nehru overcame opposition from partymen and passed the Hindu Code Bill, which freed women from the shackles of a law which permitted polygamy and denied inheritance.

When asked why he had not ensured a similar legislation for Muslim women, Nehru answered the political climate was not right.

At a time when India is on the cusp of becoming a vishwaguru and there is an increasing threat to its national sovereignty and unity from the nexus between Pakistan and China, we need to present one face of unity and strength to the world.

UCC will help bring Indianness to its citizens.

The Supreme Court of the country in various judgments in Shah Bano case in 1985, Sharda Mudgal case and in Vellimuttam's case in 2003 has made observations that there needs to be a UCC.

There seems to be a divide among the minority community regarding the powers of the Muslim Personal Law Board and their relevance in modern society.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan, who had resigned in the aftermath of the Shah Bano case, advocates that the provisions of the Muslim personal laws in some cases are very divergent from the Shariat Law and personal law is not among the five pillars of Islam.

The Muslim personal laws were enacted by the British as recently as in 1937 with an ulterior motive of bringing a divide in India.

Since Independence, the Congress and some regional parties have treated minorities as a vote bank. Successive governments have refrained from making any changes to the existing laws for fear of backlash from the community.

India needs a UCC, like many developed countries, so that its citizens across religions have the same set of rules to adhere to.

The Modi 2.0 government, which enjoys a sizeable majority in the Lower House and a workable majority in the Upper House, has implemented some of its ideological promises — such as the abrogation of Article 370, Triple Talaq Bill and implementation of CAA.

Will the BJP government go ahead and bring a bill to implement UCC and fulfil the dreams of its founders? Remains to be seen...

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