Uniform Civil Code
One Country, One Rule
The Law Commission of India, in its report in 2018, has stated that a Uniform Civil Code is “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”.
In the News -
Several leaders belonging to parties with predominantly conservative ideologies have called for the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code for the development of the country.
Breaking Down the Basics
Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a set of civil and personal laws to govern every citizen of the country, without taking into consideration the religion practiced by the individual.
Currently, aspects of an individual’s personal life, such as marriage, succession, divorce etc. is governed by various personal laws – Hindu Law, Sharia Law, Christian Law etc. Therefore, the statutes that govern them include customs and practices that are traditional to the respective religion. Hindu Marriage Act governs marriages between Hindu individuals, similarly, Muslim Marriage Act and Christian Marriage Act govern marriages between Muslim and Christian individuals respectively. Depending on the Act under which the marriage is registered, divorce proceedings, succession, etc. is accordingly determined.
Article 44 of the Constitution, which forms a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, explicitly mentions that “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”
UCC is one of the most hotly contested topics in the country, especially since a first petition was filed in 2019 to seek for framing of a UCC to promote national integration and gender justice, equality, and dignity of women.
Framers of the Constitution like Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr B.R Ambedkar insisted on a Uniform Civil Code, as opposed to religious personal laws. However, UCC was ultimately included in the Directive Principles of State Policy, primarily due to strong opposition from religious fundamentalists and a lack of awareness among the masses during the time.
Need for UCC
India being a secular republic, it is desirable to have a common personal law for all citizens, rather than segregated rules on the basis of religious practices.
UCC will ensure gender justice and equality for all genders, rather than religious laws which are usually patriarchal and favour men.
Several judgements, including those of the Supreme Court, have called for the implementation of a UCC.
Existing Uniform Codes in India
Uniform codes are not absent from Indian civil laws; The Indian Contract Act, Civil Procedure Code, Sale of Goods Act, Transfer of Property Act, Partnership Act, Evidence Act etc. are examples of uniform codes governing various subject matters. That said, States have, over time, made numerous amendments and therefore in certain matters, there is diversity even under these secular civil laws.
Recently, several states refused to be governed by the uniform Motor Vehicles Act, 2019.
Given that Personal Laws are part of the Concurrent List and not the Union List, the Central Government has limited powers over the enactment and implementation of a uniform code in the states.
Goa Civil Code
Goa is the only Indian State to have a UCC in the form of a common family law, as the Portuguese Civil Code remains valid in Goa to this date.
Progressive law that allows equal division of income and property between husband and wife and also between children (regardless of gender).
Every birth, marriage and death to be mandatorily registered.
Several provisions made for divorce.
Muslims having marriages registered in Goa are prohibited by law from practicing polygamy or divorce through Triple Talaq.
A married couple commonly holds all property and wealth acquired by either spouse during the marriage.
Children cannot be disinherited by parents entirely, and at least half the property must be passed on to children, to be shared equally amongst all children.
Drawbacks – Certain drawbacks of the Goan UCC include the right to bigamy among Hindu men under certain conditions.
Advantages of UCC
UCC will ensure integration of a diverse country with diverse religions, customs and practices by binding every citizen under a single civil code.
Continued practice of personal laws allows the operation of an alternate judicial system based on traditional values that may not be in line with contemporary ideologies.
Removes dependence and need for vote bank politics.
Sign of a progressive, truly secular society that advocates equality.
Removes misogynistic beliefs attached to most personal laws and make the country truly equal for persons other than men.
Allows for equal treatment of all citizens in matters related to marriage, inheritance, divorce, property etc.
Gets rid of personal laws that are in violation of human rights and basic freedoms guaranteed under the fundamental rights provided by the Constitution.
Results in a more cohesive legal system, as opposed to the variegated personal laws, Judiciary.
Concerns and Challenges in Implementation of UCC
Formidable task of setting uniform set of rules to govern every citizen in the sphere of personal laws, as the sentiments, practices and traditions of every interest group needs to be accounted for.
Misinformation about UCC has led to minority groups incorrectly believing that the views of the majority government will be imposed on them.
UCC is seen as being violative of various fundamental rights, including the rights enshrined under Articles 25, 26 and 29.
Article 25 lays down an individual’s fundamental right to religion;
Article 26(b) upholds the right of each religious denomination or any section thereof to “manage its own affairs in matters of religion”; and
Article 29 defines the right to conserve distinctive culture.
Politicization of the UCC, its use to engage in vote-bank politics, and hesitation of political parties to actually take up the matter in the legislature due to its sensitivity and complexity has led to UCC being a controversial and a much-debated topic.
Educating and spreading awareness and sensitization programmes must be necessarily taken up to inculcate a progressive and broadminded outlook among people.
UCC needs to be drafted bearing in mind the best interests of all interest groups
A committee of eminent jurists may be constituted to maintain uniformity and care must be taken not to hurt the sentiments of any particular community.
Comments from different religious groups may be taken before passing such a law.