- Recently, a mega congregation organized by a community at Deoband in Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, passed a resolution against the proposed Uniform Civil Code.
- It went on to say that it would be in contravention of not only the Constitution of India but also Shariayat, which is the religious law regulating the particular society in the country.
What is the news?
- The resolution claimed that their religious laws on issues like marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc. have not been created by some society, community, group or person… but they are heavenly orders.
- They are part of their religious directive, and any changes to them or attempts to stop someone from following them is a clear interference with the religion.
- This would go against the guarantee of freedom to practice and propagate religion given in section 25 of the Constitution.
The question is: The subject has been a matter of debate for years, but whether it is feasible in India or not? Given the diversity India is known for, how doable is the idea of bringing about uniformity? What are the challenges in doing so?
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.
Personal Laws And Uniform Civil Code: Timeline
# British period
During the British Raj, Personal laws were first framed mainly for Hindu and Muslims citizens.
# Start of 20th Century
In the beginning of the twentieth century, the demand for a uniform civil code was first put forward by the women activists. The objective behind this demand was the women’s rights, equality and secularism.
# 1940 – The Idea of Uniform Civil Code is born
The idea of Uniform Civil Code was tabled by the National Planning Commission (NPC) appointed by the Congress. There was a subcommittee who was to examine women’s status and recommends reforms of personal law for gender equality.
# 1947 – Question of UCC as a Fundamental Right
UCC was sought to be enshrined in the Constitution of India as a fundamental right by Minoo Masani, Hansa Mehta, Amrit Kaur and Dr. B.R Ambedkar.
# 1948 – Constitution Assembly debated UCC
Article 44 of the Indian Constitution i.e. Directive Principles of State Policy sets implementation of uniform civil laws which is the duty of the state under Part IV.
# 1950 – Reformist Bill passed
Reformist bills were passed which gave the Hindu women the right to divorce and inherit property. Bigamy and child marriages are outlawed. Such reforms were resisted by Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
# 1951 – Dr. Ambedkar Resigns
Dr. Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet in 1951 when his draft of the Hindu Code Bill was stalled by the Parliament.
# 1985 – Shah Bano Case
In this case, a divorced Muslim woman was brought within the ambit of Section 125 of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 by the Supreme Court in which it was declared by the Apex court that she was entitled for maintenance even after the completion ofiddatperiod.
# 1995- Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India
In this case, Justice Kuldip Singh reiterated the need for the Parliament to frame a Uniform Civil Code, which would help the cause of national integration by removing contradictions based on ideologies. Therefore, the responsibility entrusted on the State under Article 44 of the Constitution whereby a Uniform Civil Code must be secured has been urged by the Supreme Court repeatedly as a matter of urgency.
# 2000 – Supreme Court advocates UCC
The case of Lily Thomas v. Union of India (2000),where the Supreme Court said it could not direct the centre to introduce a UCC.
# 2015 – The Debate lives through
The apex court refused to direct the government to take a decision on having a UCC.
# 2016 – Triple Talaq Debate
When PM asked the Law Commission to examine the issue.
# 2017 – Ruling of the Triple Talaq case
Triple Talaq (Talaq -e- biddat) was declared unconstitutional on August 22, 2017.
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 organisations, including Hindu organisations.
- 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.
Enacting and Enforcing UCC
- Fundamental rights are enforceable in a court of law.
- While Article 44 uses the words “state shall endeavour”, other Articles in the ‘Directive Principles’ chapter use words such as “in particular strive”; “shall in particular direct its policy”; “shall be obligation of the state” etc.
- Article 43 mentions “state shall endeavour by suitable legislation” while the phrase “by suitable legislation” is absent in Article 44.
- All this implies that the duty of the state is greater in other directive principles than in Article 44.
What are more important — fundamental rights or directive principles?
- There is no doubt that fundamental rights are more important.
- The Supreme Court held in Minerva Mills (1980): Indian Constitution is founded on the bed-rock of the balance between Parts III (Fundamental Rights) and IV (Directive Principles).
- To give absolute primacy to one over the other is to disturb the harmony of the Constitution.
- Article 31C inserted by the 42nd Amendment in 1976, however, lays down that if a law is made to implement any directive principle, it cannot be challenged on the ground of being violative of the FRs under Articles 14 and 19.
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.
- The purpose behind UCC is to strengthen the object of “Secular Democratic Republic” as enshrined in the Preamble of the Constitution.
- This provision is provided to effect the integration of India by bringing communities on a common platform on matters which are at present governed by diverse personal laws.
- Hence UCC should be enforced taking into confidence all the sections of Indian society.