From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Uniform Civil Code
Mains level : UCC debate
A parliamentary panel has reviewed Goa’s uniform civil code, and some of its members feel that there are some peculiar and outdated provisions related to matrimony in it.
What is Goa Civil Code?
- The Goa Civil Code is a set of civil laws that governs all residents of the coastal State irrespective of their religion and ethnicity.
- Citing various positives of the Goa Civil Code, Goa CM had urged that it could be a model for implementing the UCC across the country.
Why in news?
- GCC has come under focus amid a call for the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) across the country.
- The UCC features prominently on the present regime’s ideological agenda, and the party had made promises on it in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 and 2019.
- This had an intimidating impact on certain sections of the population whose archaic provisions of personal laws were untouched for the sake of appeasement.
Why Goa model is in news?
- It was observed that a majority of the State’s people are “quite happy and content with it”.
- It is a living example of peaceful implementation of UCC.
- There were, however, some peculiar clauses in the law related to matrimony and division of property, which were outdated and not based on the principle of equality.
What is a Uniform Civil Code?
- A Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is one that would provide for one personal civil law for the entire country.
- This would be applicable to all religious communities in their personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption etc.
Basis for UCC
- Article 44, one of the Directive Principles of the Constitution lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a UCC for the citizens throughout the territory of India.
- These, as defined in Article 37, are not justiciable (not enforceable by any court) but the principles laid down therein are fundamental in governance.
UCC vs. Right to Freedom of Religion
- 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”
- Article 29 defines the right to conserve distinctive culture
Reasonable restrictions on the Freedom of Religion
- An individual’s freedom of religion under Article 25 is subject to “public order, health, morality” and other provisions relating to FRs, but a group’s freedom under Article 26 has not been subjected to other FRs.
- In the Constituent Assembly, there was division on the issue of putting UCC in the fundamental rights chapter. The matter was settled by a vote.
- By a 5:4 majority, the fundamental rights sub-committee headed by Sardar Patel held that the provision was outside the scope of FRs and therefore the UCC was made less important.
Minority Opinion in the Constituent Assembly
- Some members sought to immunize Muslim Personal Law from state regulation.
- Mohammed Ismail, who thrice tried unsuccessfully to get Muslim Personal Law exempted from Article 44, said a secular state should not interfere with the personal law of people.
- B Pocker Saheb said he had received representations against a common civil code from various organizations, including Hindu organizations.
- Hussain Imam questioned whether there could ever be uniformity of personal laws in a diverse country like India.
- B R Ambedkar said “no government can use its provisions in a way that would force the Muslims to revolt”.
- Alladi Krishnaswami, who was in favour of a UCC, conceded that it would be unwise to enact UCC ignoring strong opposition from any community.
- Gender justice was never discussed in these debates.
What about Personal Laws?
- Citizens belonging to different religions and denominations follow different property and matrimonial laws which are an affront to the nation’s unity.
- If the framers of the Constitution had intended to have a UCC, they would have given exclusive jurisdiction to Parliament in respect of personal laws, by including this subject in the Union List.
- “Personal Laws” are mentioned in the Concurrent List.
Various customary laws
- All Hindus of the country are not governed by one law, nor are all Muslims or all Christians.
- Muslims of Kashmir were governed by a customary law, which in many ways was at variance with Muslim Personal Law in the rest of the country and was, in fact, closer to Hindu law.
- Even on registration of marriage among Muslims, laws differ from place to place.
- In the Northeast, there are more than 200 tribes with their own varied customary laws.
- The Constitution itself protects local customs in Nagaland. Similar protections are enjoyed by Meghalaya and Mizoram.
- Even reformed Hindu law, in spite of codification, protects customary practices.
Why need UCC?
- UCC would provide equal status to all citizens
- It would promote gender parity in Indian society.
- UCC would accommodate the aspirations of the young population who imbibe liberal ideology.
- Its implementation would thus support the national integration.
Hurdles to UCC implementation
- There are practical difficulties due to religious and cultural diversity in India.
- The UCC is often perceived by the minorities as an encroachment of religious freedom.
- It is often regarded as interference of the state in personal matters of the minorities.
- Experts often argue that the time is not ripe for Indian society to embrace such UCC.
These questions need to be addressed which are being completely ignored in the present din around UCC.
- Firstly, how can uniformity in personal laws are brought without disturbing the distinct essence of each and every component of the society.
- Secondly, what makes us believe that practices of one community are backward and unjust?
- Thirdly, has other uniformities been able to eradicate inequalities which diminish the status of our society as a whole?
- It should be the duty of the religious intelligentia to educate the community about its rights and obligations based on modern liberal interpretations.
- A good environment for the UCC must be prepared by the government by explaining the contents and significance of Article 44 taking all into confidence.
- Social reforms are not overnight but gradual phenomenon. They are often vulnerable to media evils such as fake news and disinformation.
- Social harmony and cultural fabric of our nation must be the priority.