What is Uniform Civil Code?
- The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) calls for the formulation of one law for India, which would be applicable to all religious communities in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption.
- 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.
- The objective of Article 44 of the Directive Principles in the Indian Constitution was to address the discrimination against vulnerable groups including women and harmonise diverse cultural groups across the country.
Difference between civil laws and criminal laws :
While the criminal laws in India are uniform and applicable equally on all, no matter what their religious beliefs are, the civil laws are influenced by faith. Swayed by religious texts, the personal laws which come into effect in civil cases have always been implemented according to constitutional norms.
What are personal laws?
Laws that apply to a certain group of people based on their religion, caste, faith, and belief made after due consideration of customs and religious texts.
The personal laws of Hindus and Muslims find their source and authority in their religious ancient texts.
Origin of Uniform Civil Code
- The origin of the UCC dates back to colonial India when the British government submitted its report in 1835 stressing the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, and contracts, specifically recommending that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims be kept outside such codification.
- Increase in legislations dealing with personal issues in the far end of the British rule forced the government to form the B N Rau Committee to codify Hindu law in 1941.
- The bill was then adopted in 1956 as the Hindu Succession Act to amend and codify the law relating to intestate or unwilled succession, among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs.
- The Act reformed the Hindu personal law and gave women greater property rights, and ownership. It gave women property rights in their father’s estate.
- However there were separate personal laws for Muslim, Christian and Parsis.
Supreme Court’s various judgements since 1985:
- “A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by helping different loyalties to the conflicting ideologies” – (Shah Bano Case)
- “When more than 80% of citizens have been placed under the personal law codified, there is no justification, so to keep whatever in the absence, even more, the introduction of the uniform civil code for all citizens on the territory of India” – (Sarla Mudgal Case)
- “It is regrettable that Article 44 of the Constitution has not entered into force … The above provision is based on the premise that there is no necessary link between religion and the law of persons in a civilized society. A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing contradictions based on ideologies” – (John Vallamattom case)
Why Uniform civil code is important?
- Protection to vulnerable groups : The UCC aims to provide protection to vulnerable sections as envisaged by Ambedkar including women and religious minorities, while also promoting nationalistic fervour through unity
- Simplification of laws: The code will simplify the complex laws around marriage ceremonies, inheritance, succession, adoptions making them one for all. The same civil law will then be applicable to all citizens irrespective of their fait
- Gender Justice: UCC will promote gender justice by removing the inbuilt discriminatory provisions of personal laws specifically against women.
- National Integration– UCC would make the dream of “One Nation, One Law” come true. India believes in one nation and hence no community shall claim separate religious laws. In this way, it’ll promote national integration.
Challenges and issues related to UCC
Existence of legal pluralism in civil laws: Indian laws do follow a uniform code in most civil matters – Indian Contract Act, Civil Procedure Code, Sale of Goods Act, Transfer of Property Act, Partnership Act, Evidence Act etc. States, however, have made hundreds of amendments and therefore in certain matters, there is diversity even under these secular civil laws.
Contradictory provisions of the Constitution: Articles 371 (A) to (I) and the sixth schedule of the constitution of India provides certain protections or rather exceptions to the states of Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh and Goa with respect to family law.
- While uniformity in personal laws is envisaged through the Article 44, the inclusion of personal laws in concurrent list indicates protection of diversity in personal laws.
Plurality and diversity: It has been argued that UCC threatens a pluralistic society like India, where people have confidence in their respective religious beliefs or doctrines that have been presented by different religions.
- In 2018, Law Commission of India opined that the Uniform Civil Code is “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage” in the country. The Commission said secularism cannot be contradictory to plurality. It only ensures peaceful co-existence of cultural differences.
Indian Secularism: The idea of UCC might not be in consonance with the spirit of Indian secularism where multiple individual identities co-exist under the umbrella of the national identity.
Issue of Drafting the UCC: One of the biggest obstacles in implementing the UCC, apart from obtaining a consensus, is the drafting. There is no guideline or a vision document, whether UCC be a blend of all the personal laws or a new and common law adhering to the constitutional mandate
Concerns of Minorities: There are impediments in adoption of the UCC when it comes to addressing Minority concerns, such as separatism, conservatism and misconceived notions about personal laws. Most minorities feel a sense of insecurity, complete loss of identity and marginalization within Indian society and imposition of a majoritarian outlook on minority religions, if UCC comes into play.
- The government and society will have to work hard to build trust, but more importantly, make common cause with social reformers rather than religious conservatives.
- While framing a law it has to be borne in mind that cultural diversity cannot be compromised to the extent that our urge for uniformity itself becomes a reason for threat to the territorial integrity of the nation
- Need of the hour is the codification of all personal laws so that prejudices and stereotypes in every one of them would come to light and can be tested on the anvil of fundamental rights of the Constitution