Uniform Civil Code

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    • Recently, the Allahabad High Court has called upon the Central government to forthwith initiate the process of Uniform Civil Code implementation.
      • The court directed the Centre to consider the constitution of a committee or commission for implementing the mandate of Article 44, as directed by the Supreme Court.

    Major Points 

    • Background: 
      • The HC made the observations while hearing a bunch of 17 petitions filed by interfaith couples, who contracted marriage upon conversion, seeking protection of their life, liberty and privacy guaranteed under Article 21, to live independently as man and woman without the interference of their family or others. 
    • Observation of the court: 
      • There has been a steep rise in inter-community, inter-caste and interfaith marriages and relationships, which has exploded especially in the last few decades. Therefore the country requires a comprehensive Family Code which is in conformity with the changing times.
      • The court noted that the new anti-conversion law in UP, per se, does not prohibit interfaith marriage but the requirement of approval by the district authorities could make it tedious for such couples.

    What is Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?

    • Meaning: 
      • 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.
    • Origin of Uniform Civil Code: 
      • It 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.
      • An increase in legislation dealing with personal issues at the far end of British rule forced the government to form the B N Rau Committee to codify Hindu law in 1941. 
        • The task of the Hindu Law Committee was to examine the question of the necessity of common Hindu laws. The committee, in accordance with scriptures, recommended a codified Hindu law, which would give equal rights to women. The 1937 Act was reviewed and the committee recommended a civil code of marriage and succession for Hindus.
    • Constitutional Provisions:
      • Article 44: The “State shall endeavour to provide for its citizens a uniform civil code (UCC) throughout the territory of India.”
      • Article 37: The “state shall endeavour by suitable legislation”, while the phrase “by suitable legislation” is absent in Article 44.
    • Inclusion in DPSP:
    • The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) was included in the Directive Principles, not in the Fundamental Right which is enforceable by the Court of Law due to the following reasons:
      • Muslims members opposed it in the Constituent Assembly (CA).
      • The pain of partition on the religious ground was still not diminished. 
    • The stand taken by B.R. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly was that a UCC is desirable but for the moment should remain voluntary.

    Significance and need of UCC

    • Uniform Principles: Common Code would enable uniform principles to be applied in respect of aspects such as marriage, divorce, succession etc. so that settled principles, safeguards and procedures can be laid down and citizens are not made to struggle due to the conflicts and contradictions in various personal laws.
    • Promotion of secularism: One set of laws to govern the personal matters of all citizens irrespective of religion is the cornerstone of true secularism. 
      • It would help end gender discrimination on religious grounds and strengthen the secular fabric of the nation.
    • Protection of Vulnerable & Women’s Rights: It will protect the vulnerable sections of society. 
      • Women have been denied via personal laws in the name of socio-cultural-religious traditions. 
      • Therefore UCC could bring all communities together to ensure Women the Right to a dignified life and control over their life as well as body.
    • Reduced Discord: if and when the whole population will start following the same laws, chances are there that it would bring more peace in the living and reduce riots. 
      • Hence, Religious harmony will be created for peaceful living in the country
    • Prevents religion-based discrimination: Personal laws differentiate between people on grounds of religion. A unified law having the same provisions regarding marital affairs would provide justice to those who feel discriminated against.
    • Ending unjust customs and traditions: A rational common and unified personal law will help eradicate many evil, unjust and irrational customs and traditions prevalent across the communities. 
      • For example, Law against Manual scavenging. It might have been a custom in the past but in a mature democracy like India, this custom cannot be justified.
    • Remove vote bank politics: Opting the UCC will remove the religious nexus of the Political system in which voters are divided on the basis of religion, caste etc.
    • Eases Administration: UCC would make it easy to administer the huge population base of India.
    • Global practice of UCC: Almost all Muslim nations like Morocco, Pakistan etc. have been following the UCC.
    • National integration: A common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to laws that have conflicting ideologies. No community is likely to bell the cat by making gratuitous concessions on this issue. It is the State which is charged with the duty of securing a uniform civil code for the citizens of the country and, unquestionably, it has the legislative competence to do so.
    • Best Practice: While delivering a judgment legitimising the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867, the Supreme Court reportedly described Goa as a “shining example” with a Uniform Civil Code

    Challenges

    • Violation of fundamental rights: Religious bodies oppose uniform civil code on the ground that it would be interference into religious affairs which would violate fundamental rights guaranteed under article 25 of the constitution.
    • Reduces diversity: It would reduce the diversity of the nation by painting everyone in one colour. Tribals have their unique customs and traditions as per their culture. Replacing their customs and traditions with a unified law may lead to the identity crisis of the tribals. This may further lead to social tension.
    • Communal politics: It would be a tyranny to the minority and when implemented could bring a lot of unrest in the country.
    • Threat to Multiculturalism: Indian society has a unique identity in the form of its being multiculturalism, and unified law might do away with these unique characteristics of this nation.
    • Lacking Political Will: The UCC is a sensitive issue, there is hard to get political consensus on this part. In the multiparty system and democratic setup the majority decision matters.
      • The minorities are always treated as vote banks by political parties and become a hurdle in implementing the Uniform Civil Code.

    Various Judgments

    • Ms Jordan Diengdeh case: 
      • The Supreme Court had in 1985 directed that the judgment in Ms Jordan Diengdeh be placed before the Ministry of Law to take appropriate steps. 
      • However, more than three decades have passed since then and it is unclear as to what steps have been taken in this regard to date.
      • The remarks on the UCC came on a petition questioning the applicability of The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 in respect of a couple belonging to the Meena community.
      • Even though the parties admitted that the marriage was solemnised by them as per Hindu rites, the wife, in response to a divorce petition filed by her husband, said the Act did not apply to them because they were members of a notified Scheduled Tribe in Rajasthan and were thus covered by an exclusion under Section 2 (2) of the Act.
    • Sarla Mudgal Vs Union of India (1995): The court held that the Hindu marriage solemnized under Hindu law can only be dissolved on any of the grounds specified under the Hindu Marriage Act 1955. 
      • Conversion to Islam and marrying again, would not by itself dissolve the Hindu marriage under the act and thus, a second marriage solemnized after converting to Islam would be an offence under section 494 of the Indian Penal Code(IPC).
    • John Vallamathon Vs Union of India (2013): Secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.
    • SC refused to direct (2015): Cannot direct Parliament to enact Uniform Civil Code. It is Parliament to take a call on this.  
    • Shah Bano Case (2017): SC declared the practice of Triple Talaq (talaq-e-bidat) as unconstitutional and made it a criminal offence.   
    • Law Commission (2018): Uniform Civil Code which is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage.

    Conclusion

    • The guiding principles of the Constitution itself visualize diversity and have tried to promote uniformity among peoples of different denominations. 
    • A uniform law, although highly desirable but may be counterproductive to the unity and integrity of the nation. 
    • Hence, only those elements of customs and traditions should be brought into a unified law that causes injustice to individuals. 
    • There are some good and equitable provisions in personal laws, which are worth incorporating in the unified law. 
    • At the same time, good customs and traditions should be protected to preserve the indigenous culture associated with it. It will help India protect its strength i.e. unity in diversity.
    • In a democracy and rule of law, a gradual progressive change and order must be brought about. 
    • Bigger issues have been resolved by the BJP Government like the Ayodhya Dispute, repeal of Article 370, so with adequate will from the political community, UCC could also be implemented
    • Codification of all personal laws as suggested by the Law Commission.
      • By codification of different personal laws, one can arrive at certain universal principles that prioritize equity rather than the imposition of a Uniform Civil Code

    Source: TH