Widgetized Section

Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone

The Need for UCC: Uniform Civil Code in India

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
June 3, 2022

“I am influenced more than ever before by the conviction that social equality is the only basis of human happiness.” – Nelson Mandela

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is not a new topic of debate as it has continued on since the time the framers of the Constitution deliberated upon it. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, who is often called the “Father of the Constitution”, as the Chairman of the Drafting committee, was clearly in favor of the Uniform Civil Code in the Constituent assembly debates.

According to Part 4, Article 44 of the Constitution of India, 1950, “State shall endeavor to provide for its citizens a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) throughout the territory of India.” A Uniform Civil Code aims to replace personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of various religious communities, with a common set of rules governing every citizen of the country. This idea has elicited mixed reactions from various factions of the society.

While Articles 25 to 28 of the Constitution of India guarantee freedom of religion to every individual, it also enforces the State to apply directive principles and common law while drafting national policies.

The origin of UCC can be traced back to 1835 when the British colonial rule stressed upon the immediate need for uniformity in personal laws for Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. They, however, exempted Muslims, Christians and Parsis.

What Are Personal Laws?

After the end of British rule in India, the Indian government took steps to strengthen the legislation dealing with personal issues of the two exempted communities from the UCC—Hindus and Muslims. The BN Rau Committee was created which codified Hindu law in 1941. The committee was tasked with examining the necessity of common Hindu laws that go in accordance with the scriptures. It should be noted that personal laws are currently governed by their religious scriptures. For the unversed, personal laws are distinguished from public law and cover marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance. Further, the committee recommended a civil code of marriage and succession for Hindus. It is necessary to understand that personal laws are applied to a certain set of people following a particular region, belief or faith—these are made only after due consideration of the religious customs and texts. Both Hindu and Muslim personal laws were made after verifying the source and authenticity of religious texts.

For Muslims, personal laws were applied to inheritance, wills, successions, marriage, divorce, gifts, wakfs, dowry and guardianship—all after taking references from the Quran. 

Personal laws were made to promote “freedom of religious practice”, but several elements still do not stand relevant in modern scenarios. The recent case of Benazeer Heena, where a Muslim woman journalist approached the Supreme Court pleading to end the practice of ‘Talaq-e-Hasan’, a unilateral divorce practice that gives the husband power to divorce his wife by pronouncing ‘talaq’ three times. Heena approached the court pleading to make the practice unconstitutional. She called triple talaq irrational, arbitrary and in violation of Articles 14, 15, 21 and 25 of the Constitution. After a nationwide demand and discussion, eventually, a historic decision was decreed in 2019 by the Indian parliament that made Triple Talaq, also known as instant talaq, an offense.

Why Do We Need a Uniform Civil Code?

The UCC would, in concept, provide equal status to all citizens irrespective of the community they belong. It is not a foreign concept and markers towards this lies within India’s history. Our Constitution provides the right to equality for all. India’s cultural traditions and scriptures prescribe many values on equality among men and women. While we move forward towards development, we also must not forget to look back to take lessons from history.

The present personal laws are largely discriminatory towards women. For example, women do not have equal rights to inheritance, and in some cases, no right to inheritance. Post-Independence, attempts to protect these rights have been made through piecemeal legislations like the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005.

Personal laws have clashed with fundamental rights in various cases over the years and a handful of these instances have made it to court, often reigniting the debate on Uniform Civil Code. Presently, personal laws for each community are wildly different on how issues like marriage, inheritance, etc., are treated. This is in contravention with Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees equality before the law.

What Will Uniform Civil Code Do?

It is high time that the government implements Uniform Civil Code, puts an end to systemic discrimination and strives toward gender parallelism.

A declaration of equal property rights and equal rights to seek a divorce, seek maintenance and adoption are a good start, but will not be sufficient by themselves to achieve gender justice. These are reforms to personal laws alone. The civil code was given the status under Directive Principles of State Policies and hence it could not be made enforceable.

The UCC aims to provide protection to vulnerable sections as envisaged by Ambedkar including women and religious minorities, while also promoting nationalistic fervor through unity. When enacted, the code will work to simplify laws that are segregated at present on the basis of religious beliefs like the Hindu code bill, Shariat law and others. The code will simplify the complex laws around marriage ceremonies, inheritance, succession and adoptions making them one for all. The same civil law will then be applicable to all citizens, irrespective of their faith.

Author: Pooja Paswan is currently enrolled at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow. She is currently the Book Review Editor at the International Journal of Public Administration IJPA and has worked extensively in the area of development administration and public policy. She can be reached at https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *