DECODING THE UNIFORM CIVIL CODE: A STEP TOWARDS EQUALITY AND JUSTICE
Author: Yashika Patel, I year of BA. LL.B (Hons.) from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University
India has a wide range of nationalities and religions. The laws of this country evolved from personal rules that take religion into account, reflecting the diversity of its people. Article 25 of the Indian Constitution establishes India as a secular society, allowing everyone to practice their religion without discrimination. The preamble of the Constitution establishes India as a "Secular" Democratic Republic, with no official religion and the state not biased towards any particular religion. Articles 25 and 26 guarantee the freedom of religion and the freedom to conduct religious affairs as fundamental rights.
The Uniform Civil Code under Article 44 of the Indian Constitution calls for personal laws to be equally applicable to all people regardless of their caste, gender, or religion, and the state must endeavor to obtain a consistent civil code across the country. The Directive Principles of State Policy govern the Uniform Civil Code and are not enforceable by the Court but act as constructive requirements for effective leadership.
Currently, Goa is the only state with a uniform civil code, with Hindus, Muslims, and Christians all following the same laws regarding matters like succession, divorce, and marriage. The controversy over the Uniform Civil Code centers around replacing unique personal customs and practices with a standard code, with supporters claiming it will end religious prejudice and detractors fearing that it will undermine the basic right to practice one's religion.
The British government's 1835 report on colonial India emphasized the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, and contracts and it specifically recommended that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims should be kept outside of such codification. This is where the idea of Uniform civil code first emerged. The government created the B N Rau Committee to codify Hindu law in 1941 as a result of an increase in laws addressing personal matters after the end of British rule.
During the post-colonial era leading political figures like Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar lobbied for a standard civil code throughout the Constitution's formulation. The UCC was finally incorporated in the Directive Principles of State Policy under Article 44 of the Constitution, despite resistance from religious extremists and a general lack of understanding at that time about its benefits.
Some reforms that were taken in this period were-
The Hindu code bill- This bill was created to change Hindu law, which prohibited polygamy, legalized divorce, and granted daughters the right to inherit property. A watered-down version of the code was adopted through four separate statutes despite fierce resistance.
1. The Hindu Marriage Act (1955)- This act's principal goal was to update and codify the legislation governing marriage between Hindus and other people from other religions. Divorce and separation were also covered. The legislation became uniform for all Hindu groups as a result of this law.
2. Minority and Guardianship Act (1956)- Hindus can be guardians under the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act. This statute regulates guardianship law for Hindus as an addition to the "Guardian and Wards Act, 1890." This legislation primarily focuses on the natural guardianship law and specifies who will be the natural guardian and what their rights would be.
3. Adoption and Maintenance Act (1956) -The regulations for Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and Hindus are governed by this statute. The majority of its laws deal with the adoption of children and the upkeep of spouses, kids, or elderly parents.
4. Special Marriage Act (1954)- This act provided laws regarding civil marriage (or "registered marriage") between Indian citizens and any Indian nationals abroad, irrespective of religion or belief practiced by either side. Personal laws do not apply to marriages performed in accordance with the Special Marriage Act.
Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985)[i]
Shah Bano, a 73-year-old lady, was refused support after her husband divorced her using the triple talaq method, which involves declaring "I divorce thee" three times. Both District and High Court ruled in her favor after she filed a legal claim. Her husband then filed an appeal in the Supreme Court, in which he claimed that he had completed all of his Islamic law-related duties.
Following this historic judgment, there were protests, gatherings, and discussions around the country. The Muslim Women's Right to Protection on Divorce Act, which rendered Section 125 of the CrPC inapplicable to Muslim women, was finally approved by the government in 1986 as a result of pressure.
Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India (1995)[ii]
The issue was whether a Hindu spouse who had been wed according to Hindu law after converting to Islam could perform a second marriage. The Court ruled that a marriage that has been solemnized according to Hindu law may only be dissolved on the grounds listed in the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955. A second marriage that is solemnized after converting to Islam would be unlawful under section 494 of the IPC since it would not automatically invalidate the Hindu marriage under the legislation.
John Vallamattom & Anr v. Union of India (2003)[iii]
Mr. Vallamatton, who was a priest in Kerela, argued that Section 118 of the Act discriminates against Christians by placing excessive limitations on their ability to leave property to charity or for religious purposes. John Vallamattom was questioned whether Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act, which applies to non-Hindus in India, is constitutionally lawful. The bench declared the clause unlawful and invalidated it.
Daniel Latifi & Anr v. Union of India (2001)[iv]
In this case, the Muslim Women's Act was contested on the grounds that it infringed both the right to life and the right to equality mentioned in Article 21 and Articles 14 and 15, respectively. The Supreme Court upheld the law's constitutionality, harmonized it with section 125 of the CrPC, and ruled that a wife's iddat payment must be sufficient to support her both now and in the future. A Muslim woman who has been divorced is therefore entitled to support for life, or until she marries again, under the laws of the country.
Currently, the religious texts of different groups regulate their own laws. One of the controversial pledges made by India's ruling Bhartiya Janata Party is to implement a uniform civil code across the country. In defence of Sharia and religious practices, the political left wing of India, Muslim organizations, and other conservative religious groups and sects continue to debate this crucial topic surrounding Secularism in Indian politics. BJP was the first party in the nation to make such a pledge.
Supreme Court, from time to time, has reiterated the desire to implement UCC in India. However, the Court acknowledged that creating such a code belongs solely in the legislative realm. Hence these comments are just advisory rather than binding.
Pushkar Singh Dhami, the chief minister of Uttarakhand, recently said that the state will soon start enforcing the Uniform Civil Code. A few days after he was elected as the second chief minister of Uttarakhand, he made this declaration in order to carry out a significant pre-election promise made by him; this decision was made at the first cabinet meeting held in Dehradun. A "high-powered" expert team made up of lawyers, elderly citizens, and intellectuals would be assembled by the Uttarakhand government for this purpose in order to design the UCC for the state. If Uttarakhand is successful in implementing the Uniform Civil Code, it will become the second state in India to do so.
At the moment, Goa is the only state with a common family law and its own UCC. It continues to adhere to the Portuguese Civil Code, which was first implemented in Goa in the 19th century and was left in place following its emancipation. S.A. Bobde, a former chief judge of India, had praised this and urged "intellectuals" engaging in "academic discussion" to visit the state to find out more. The Supreme Court also referred to it as a "shining example" of UCC in a 2019 decision, noting that while the Constitution's authors "hoped and anticipated" India to have a Uniform Civil Code, no attempt has been made to create one.
Challenges Arising in the Implementation of the Uniform Civil Code
It is practically tough to come up with a common and uniform set of rules for personal issues like marriage, adoption, and maintenance due to existing cultural and religious diversity in India.
Many communities, especially minority ones, believe that the Uniform Civil Code infringes upon their ability to practice their religion freely. They worry that a uniform code will disregard local customs and impose laws heavily influenced and controlled by the majority of religious sects.
The Constitution allows for the right to freedom of religion of one's choice. The extent of the right to freedom of religion will be constrained by the formulation of universal rules and their imposition.
It is feared by many that by attempting to implement UCC, the parliament is trying to replicate the Western system of law, which is based on uniformity, but the Indian concept of Secularism is based on the diversity of religion and people.
The biggest problem is that most people are ignorant of UCC's goals, and this ignorance is caused by a variety of factors, including a lack of education, fake news, unfounded religious views, etc.
Community politics have been used to frame the desire for a single civil code. A significant portion of the population views it as majoritarianism disguised as social change.
The imperative to effectuate the Uniform Civil Code
Many faiths discriminate against women in their personal rules. In concerns of succession and inheritance, men often have higher privileged standing. Equal rights for men and women will result from a uniform civil code.
All Indian citizens are considered equal before the Court of Law as criminal laws and other civil laws (excluding personal laws) are similar for all. The Uniform Civil Code, once implemented, will ensure that all citizens are subjected to a similar set of personal laws. Issues of discrimination, concessions, or special benefits enjoyed by a certain group due to their religion will come to an end.
The majority of current personal laws are founded on the aristocratic, patriarchal ideas of society found in all faiths. As patriarchal orthodox people continue to believe that the reforms in personal laws would ruin their sanctity and vigorously fight them, disgruntled women typically make the demand for UCC as an alternative to current personal laws.
The necessity for UCC derives from the fact that there are numerous variations and inconsistencies among personal laws because there is no uniformity. Additionally, it aims to safeguard vulnerable groups, including women and religious minorities.
The goal of the UCC's adoption in India is to treat all of its residents equally, regardless of their religious beliefs, so that everyone who lives there will experience a sense of equality and Secularism. It would eradicate gender discrimination based on religion in our society and improve the speed and effectiveness of the judicial system.
For the successful implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in India, some essential reforms must be taken, which include spreading awareness and educating people about UCC, its goals, and its need in the current Indian society. For this, the government and society will have to join hands and build trust among each other. Moreover, make common cause with reformers instead of religious conservatives.
Since implementing UCC all at once would be a significant change, the government should make efforts to bring marriage, adoption, maintenance, and succession separately under the ambit of UCC in stages.
A balance should be carved out between the guarding the fundamental rights of the people and removing the evils practiced in the name of religion from the society, for which a committee of efficient jurists must be formed, and steps should be taken in such a way that it does not hurt the sentiments of any particular community. Moreover, there should not be any bias against any community while forming the rules.
Political and intellectual leaders ought to work to forge a consensus rather than utilize it as an emotional issue to advance their own political interests. The issue is simply about how to treat every individual with respect and dignity and not about protecting minorities or even about maintaining national unity, which personal laws have so far failed to address. Since the matter is sensitive in nature, it is always better if the initiative comes from the religious groups concerned. If all the necessary steps are taken, India can see a bright future when it comes to the successful implementation of the Uniform Civil Code.
[i]Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum AIR 1985 SC 945 [ii]Sarla Mugdal v. Union of India AIR 1995 SC 1531 [iii]John Vallamattom & Anr v. Union of India AIR 1995 SCC 635 [iv]Daniel Latifi v. Union of India AIR 2001 SC 3958