Uniform Civil Code- the Debate Around it!
What is UCC (Uniform Civil Code)? What does it imply?
The Uniform Civil Code is a code of conduct that simply means “One Country, One Law”. If applied, the UCC will replace various laws currently in force, including the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act, the Indian Divorce Act, the Parsi Marriage Act, the Indian Christian Marriage Act, and the Divorce Act.
On the horizon, the UCC will apply uniform laws in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption.
Implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in India will prevent different sections of society from being inconsistent. They will then be treated uniformly according to the national civil code regardless of their religion.
Article 44 (Part IV)
Article 44 (Part IV) of the Constitution states that “The State shall endeavour to secure the citizen a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India.”
The UCC comes under Article 44 of the Constitution of India. Article 44 of the constitution simulates the Directive Principles of the State Policy. It expects the Indian States to apply and practice a law common to all Indian citizens simultaneously adhering to national policies.
The Uniform Civil Code, which has not been applied yet, is a contentious issue in India. There is a side of debaters manifesting that UCC might promote equality and secularism while the opponents believe it would interfere with religious freedoms and cultural practices.
The View of the Constituent Assembly on the UCC
There were varied opinions about the Uniform Civil Code within the constituent assembly. The Uniform Civil Code saw a detailed discussion at the Constituent Assembly on 23rd November 1948.
Various suggestions to amend the laws related to religious beliefs and practices were made. Mehboob Ali Baig Sahib Bahadur, Naziruddin Ahmed, Muhammad Ismail, and Husain Imam were among the Muslim members who moved these amendments.
The counter-arguments were made by B. R. Ambedkar, K. M. Munshi, and Alladi Krishnaswamy Ayyar.
Arguments against UCC at the constituent assembly session:
- Naziruddin Ahmed, to move an amendment, stated “The personal law of any community which has been guaranteed shall not be changed. Each community has certain religious laws and civil laws are inseparable from religious beliefs and practices. I believe that in framing a uniform code these should be kept in mind.”
- Mohammad Ismail further added, “The right of a group or a community of people to follow and adhere to its own personal law is among the fundamental rights and this provision should be made statutory and justified.”
- “The right to follow personal law is a part of the way of life of people who are following these laws. It is a part of their religion and culture. This secular state which we are trying to create should not interfere with the life of people and their religion.”
The Counter-argument at the Constituent Assembly (in favor of UCC):
- R. Ambedkar was strongly in favor of adding the Uniform Civil Code to the Constitution. He stated, “The state shall endeavour to secure a civil code for the citizens of the country.” He further added, “There was nothing new about the UCC which already didn’t exist except for the areas of marriage and inheritance.” Ambedkar wanted to eliminate the various discriminations that provided women minimum to no rights in the family as well as in society.
- Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar commented that UCC will provide amity and uniformity in the country. He argued that “The differential systems of the inheritance and other matters are some factors which contribute to the dissimilarities among the different peoples of India. Uniform Civil Code aims to arrive at a common measure of agreement regarding these matters.”
- M. Munshi was of the view that we must outgrow the practice of having personal laws as a part of religion, as he believed that this law was fostered during British rule. He argued that “Every section of the society having and following personal laws separately will lead to piecemeal legislation affecting the personal law of the country. It will not only put minorities in question but majorities as well.”
At the end of the session, the counter-argument that a uniform law would provide a foundation of conformity and equality to all the sections of society won, making Uniform Civil Code a part of the Constitution.
The Status of Personal Laws in our country
The governance of India has been rolling over various personal laws for different communities and religions. They have been subjected to the matters of marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance, under the Concurrent list of the Indian constitution. Some of these include the following:
- Shariat Law of 1937
- Special Marriage Act 1954
- The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955
- The Hindu Succession Act of 1956
- The Hindu Minority and Succession Act of 1956
- The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act of 1956
The Current Scenario
The Uniform Civil Code has been at the centre stage for many debates and sessions in India since the post-independence era. Many social and political reform movements, as well as amendments, have projected its time-honored demand. While on the other hand, certain disapprovals and quashes have contributed to its opposition, thereafter playing veto in its execution.
Arguments in favor of the Uniform Civil Code
- One nation, one rule: India is a fundamental country, with diversified culture, religion, and languages. The Uniform Civil Code will provide a common foundation to its judicial system promoting the idea of ‘Unity in Diversity’.
- More rights to Women: The present Personal laws of various sections deprive women of their say in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. The UCC will bring about the right balance in this section empowering women.
- The application of UCC will bring about civil uniformity on the judicial platform as all the personal laws will cease to exist. These will be on the likes of the Civil Procedure Code and the Criminal Procedure Code.
- The existing Muslim personal law, the Shariat Law of 1937, does not follow the lines of uniform application. UCC will eliminate just that.
- The Uniform Civil Code will not only promote secularism but also contribute to the ever-moving forward and progressive demands of the globe. UCC aims at making India a developed nation by keeping track of healthy social growth.
- Many provisions from the personal laws of the existing system, violate human rights, UCC will promote secularism at the grass root level. UCC will make sure that every citizen is treated the same in terms of law and order regardless of what religion they follow.
Arguments against the Uniform Civil Code
- The members of the drafting committee did not intend to apply ‘One nation, one law’ to all the sections of the society. The personal laws were placed in the concurrent list for a reason.
- B. R. Ambedkar, though was in favor of the UCC but wanted to keep it optional.
- There are many tribal communities in our nation, that follow their own laws, regardless of their religion.
- Many protestors view the implementation of UCC as a breach of Article 25, as the article extensively speaks about the freedom of people to practice and propagate any religion.
Goa Civil Code
Goa is the only state in India to have adopted a Uniform civil code. The Goa Civil Code is designed on the lines of the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867. Some disciplines of the Goa Civil Code are:
- Equal division of income and property between husband and wife. Similarly, equal division between children, regardless of their gender.
- Compulsory registration of every birth, marriage, and death.
- Muslims who have their marriage registered in Goa, cannot practice polygamy or divorce through triple talaq.
- Couples who have their marriage registered in Goa equally share the property and wealth, owned, or acquired by each spouse.
- In case of divorce, the property or wealth is equally divided between both partners.
- In case of death, the ownership of the wealth is halved for the surviving member.
It would not be wrong to say that the Goa Civil Code does have some anomalies and is not completely uniform, however, it is far more just in terms of equality under various social matters.
Challenges in the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code
- The biggest challenge that lies in the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in India is the very factor for which it shall be devised. Framing and applying the right set of rules that undermines the discriminations and disparities, and at the same govern all the different communities equally, is exhausting and laborious.
- Another big hurdle that comes in the way of the successful implementation of UCC, is the misinformation that goes around within the communities. It is easy to understand that minorities do not carry genuine knowledge of UCC, resulting in them misunderstanding its implications.
- The various political agendas of various political parties in India, projects a lack of will in the long run.
Suggestions and the way forward for UCC
India is a land of diversity. Cultural, political, regional, linguistic, philosophical, economic, religious, you name it, we have it.
As quoted by Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, “India is a civilizational nation in the world with a unique idea of philosophical foundations. For us, spiritual democracy exists and is firm and our ekam sat, vipra bahuda vadanti approach rejects any monopolistic approach.
It is high that we need to realize the objectives of Directive Principles of State Policy and at the same time maintain the much-required uniformity of the nation in terms of social and personal laws.
- Accurate and adequate information needs to be imparted to the people about UCC. A different progressive point of view needs to be encouraged to understand the soul of the Uniform Civil Code.
- UCC needs to be backed by a strong political will to see India as ‘One nation’. The matter should not be placed as an instrument of communal politics or vote banks.
- A committee of eminent jurists and decision-makers should be constituted to draft the appropriate provisions of the bill keeping in mind the various practices in the various religious communities without hurting anyone’s sentiments.
- The above-said committee should contain some learned men from the different religious groups themselves, as the matter is sensitive with respect to religious diversity.
We need to arrive at an intellectual consensus that is socially empowering, politically correct, humanly possible, and religiously available for the nation.