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  • Mehak Maryam

UNIFORM CIVIL CODE: DEBATES AND IMPLICATIONS FOR PERSONAL LAWS IN INDIA

Mehak Maryam,

University of Kashmir

UNIFORM CIVIL CODE: DEBATES AND IMPLICATIONS FOR PERSONAL LAWS IN INDIA

Overview and meaning

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a proposal to replace personal laws based on the customs and traditions of India’s diverse religious communities with a unified body of rules that govern all citizens. The concept of a UCC has been debated in India for decades, with proponents believing that it would promote gender equality and social justice, while opponents argue that it would violate citizens’ religious freedom. The UCC discussion has been especially heated in India due to the country’s diverse religious and cultural mix. Personal laws in India are founded on religious texts and conventions, and they apply to individuals according to their religion. For example, Hindu personal law governs the personal concerns of Hindus, whereas Muslim personal law governs the personal matters of Muslims. Proponents of the UCC claim that it promotes gender equality by ensuring that all citizens, regardless of religion, are subject to the same set of laws. They say that personal laws based on religious scriptures and customs frequently discriminate against women, and that a UCC would ensure that women are treated equally before the law. Opponents of the UCC claim that it would violate residents' religious freedom, and that personal laws based on religious scriptures and customs are a vital part of India's cultural legacy. They say that a UCC is a kind of cultural imperialism and would be difficult to execute given India's diverse religious and cultural customs[i]. The implications of a UCC for India are complex and far-ranging. While it has the potential to advance gender equality and social justice, it may also cause social instability and political polarization. Implementing a UCC would involve substantial political will and consensus-building, as well as opposition from diverse religious and cultural organizations. To summarize, the argument over the Uniform Civil Code in India is a complex and difficult one, with proponents and opponents advocating for opposing viewpoints. While a UCC has the potential to promote gender equality and social justice, its implementation would require substantial political will and consensus-building, and would very certainly face opposition from diverse religious and cultural organizations.

Relevance of UCC IN CONTEXT OF INDIA OR DEBATES FOR UCC

Gender Equality: One of the key arguments in support of UCC is that it can assist promote gender equality by guaranteeing that all people, regardless of religious origin, are subject to the same set of laws. Personal laws based on religious conventions frequently discriminate against women, and a UCC can assist in ending such abuses.

Social Justice: UCC can help to promote social justice by creating a shared legal framework that treats all citizens equally. It can assist to remove gaps and ensure that people have equal rights and opportunities regardless of their religious affiliation.

Secularism: India is a secular country, and implementing a UCC might be viewed as a step towards strengthening the nation’s secular fabric. It can serve to decrease the impact of religious legislation in civil concerns while also ensuring that the state treats citizens in a neutral and unbiased manner.

Simplification and Uniformity: India is a varied country with numerous personal laws controlling various religious groups. Implementing a UCC can streamline the legal system by replacing these disparate rules with a single set of laws that apply to all citizens. This can result in more clarity, uniformity, and efficiency in the legal structure.

UCC

National Integration: India’s variety is a strength as well as a challenge. A UCC can help to enhance national cohesion by instilling a sense of shared identity and values in citizens. It can assist to overcome religious and cultural gaps and foster a sense of community among disparate groups.

Modernization and Progress: Personal laws in India are frequently founded on religious scriptures and rituals that may conflict with modern ideas and principles. Implementing a UCC can help to modernize the legal system and align it with a progressive society’s changing needs and ambitions[ii]. It is vital to highlight that UCC’s relevance and implementation in India are still being debated and discussed. The country’s diverse religious and cultural landscape, combined with concerns about religious freedom and cultural preservation, makes this a complicated and delicate topic. Any decision on UCC adoption would require thorough analysis, consensus-building, and respect for the different opinions and interests of all stakeholders concerned[iii].

The historical development of personal laws in India is a complicated and multifaceted process that has lasted several centuries. Here’s a summary of the historical background:

Ancient period: Ancient India had a complex legal system shaped by many religious and philosophical traditions. Hindu law, also known as Dharmashastra[iv], played an important part in creating Hindu personal rules. It addressed many areas of life, including marriage, inheritance, and property rights. Other religious communities, like Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs, had their own legal systems.

Medieval period: During the mediaeval times, Islamic monarchs arrived in India, bringing with them their own Sharia-based legal system. Muslim personal rules governed marriage, divorce, and inheritance. These laws coexisted with the current Hindu legal system[v].

British colonial rule: The British East India Company developed a presence in India in the 17th century, steadily expanding its authority over the country. The British established their own legal system, mostly based on English common law. They did, however, recognize the relevance of personal laws for various religious sects and allowed them to continue governing personal concerns[vi].

Codification efforts: Several attempts to codify personal laws were made in India during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The British government started the codification process in order to make the legal system more uniform and understandable. The Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, and Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act codify Hindu personal law. Similar steps were taken for other religious communities, too.[vii]

DEBATES AGAINST UCC

Religious freedom: The claim that UCC may restrict citizens’ freedom of religion is one of the main defenses levelled against it. The implementation of a standard Civil Code might be interpreted as an attempt to enforce a standard set of laws on all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, as personal laws are frequently founded on religious practices and traditions.

Cultural preservation: Personal rules are frequently firmly ingrained in the customs and cultural traditions of various religious groups. The implementation of a UCC may pose a risk to the continued existence of these customs and cultural practices.

Political expediency: Some contend that political expediency, rather than a sincere desire for social justice and equality, is the driving force behind the movement for UCC. They contend that UCC is frequently employed as a political ploy to win over particular voter blocs.

Implementation challenges: In a multicultural nation like India, implementing a UCC might be a difficult and complicated procedure. It necessitates reaching an understanding and showing consideration for the various viewpoints and concerns of all parties involved.[viii]

The views of stakeholders on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India

Government and reform advocates: The establishment of a UCC is widely supported by the government and reformers as a way to advance social cohesion, gender equality, and secularism. They contend that equal rights and opportunities for all citizens would be ensured by a single set of rules that apply to everybody, regardless of their religious background[ix]. They think that a UCC would address these problems because they feel that private legislation founded on religious traditions frequently supports injustice and discrimination, especially against women.

Religious leaders and conservative groups: The establishment of a UCC may be opposed by some conservative organizations and religious leaders who see it as a threat to their religious autonomy and identity. They contend that religiously based personal laws are an essential component of their faith and ought to be upheld[x]. If a UCC is put into place, they might voice worries about the possible loss of customs and cultural practices connected to their religious communities.

Minority communities: Divergent opinions can exist among minority groups. A UCC may be supported by certain members who see it as a way to advance secularism and egalitarianism. They would contend that a UCC would assist in addressing these problems and that personal laws frequently serve to uphold discrimination within their own communities[xi]. Some, on the other hand, could be worried about the possible loss of their cultural customs and rituals and worry that joining a UCC would result in assimilation and a weakening of their religious identity.

Legal experts and scholars: Legal experts and scholars may have diverse opinions on the UCC. Some may argue for the need to harmonize and simplify the legal system by implementing a UCC. They may highlight the inconsistencies and complexities arising from multiple personal laws and advocate for a uniform set of laws applicable to all citizens. Others may emphasize the importance of respecting religious diversity and argue for a more nuanced approach that balances the need for uniformity with the preservation of cultural and religious practices.

INDIAN CONSTITUTION AND UCC

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is not mentioned in the Indian Constitution specifically. But according to Article 44 of the Constitution, a Directive Principle of State Policy, “the State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”

The government can create laws and policies that advance the welfare of the populace by following the directive principles of state policy. Although the government is supposed to take them into account when enacting laws and regulations, they are not enforceable in court.

In conclusion, the Indian Constitution acknowledges the necessity of a UCC, even though it does not require its implementation and gives the government instructions to strive towards implementing it.[xii]

Government action in favor of UCC

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has been the subject of multiple legislation submitted in the Indian Parliament over the years. It’s crucial to remember that none of these bills have been able to become law.

The “Uniform Civil Code Bill, 2003” was one of the significant UCC-related measures that the government led by the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) introduced. This bill sought to give all individuals, regardless of their religious background, access to a common set of laws covering personal concerns like marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption. But the bill was subsequently dropped due to strong opposition[xiii].

On February 7. 2024, Uttarakhand Assembly passes UCC Bill; becomes India’s first state to implement Uniform Civil Code Uttarakhand is putting the Uniform Civil Code into effect months before the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. According to sources, BJP-ruled states like Assam and Gujarat are in the process of passing UCC laws, and the Union Government is seeking to introduce a similar law at the federal level.[xiv] 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, there has been much discussion and debate in India throughout the years over the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Despite being mentioned in Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, there have been difficulties in making this mandate a law.

Diverse parties possess drastically differing opinions regarding the UCC. A UCC, according to its supporters, would foster social cohesion, gender equality, and secularism by giving all citizens, regardless of their religious background, access to a shared body of laws. They think it would contribute to the abolition of discriminatory practices and guarantee everyone’s equal rights.

Opponents, meanwhile, voice worries about possible violations of religious liberty and cultural diversity. They contend that since personal laws are firmly ingrained in religious doctrine and cultural practices, they ought to be upheld and preserved. They think that only with the approval and agreement of all communities can a UCC be put into effect.

It has proven to be very difficult to strike a balance between these divergent opinions and come to an agreement. Gaining the support of different religious and cultural groups and resolving their concerns has proven to be difficult for the government. Thus, no UCC bill has so far succeeded in becoming a law.

Discussions and debates on the UCC are still taking place in the Indian Parliament and in society at large. It will be interesting to watch how the government and interested parties handle this difficult situation and try to find a solution that upholds the variety of Indian culture as well as the rights of the individual.

REFERENCES

[i] Biju Govid, India needs UCC but it should be a secular code that doesn’t favour any group, Time OF India, 2023

[iii] Ms Denkila Bhutia, Development of personal laws in India: An historical account, academia.edu, 2016, page number 285 to 289

[iv]  Advinay, the significance of UCC in India ,legal services India e- journal

[vi] Alok Prasanna comma re igniting debate on India’s uniform civil code, East Asia forum, 2023

[ix] Utkarsh Anand, UCC bill : the provisions and legal context Hindustan Times, 2024

[xii] ET online, what's uniform civil code what corn institution says about it and why it is so controversial economic times.com, 2024

[xiii] Anubhuti Rastogi, Uniform civil code, law times journal, 2019

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