The Uniform Civil Code: A Boon or a Bane for India?

  • Naga Suganeswar

The debate over the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India has been a contentious issue for decades. A UCC seeks to replace the diverse personal laws rooted in the scriptures and customs of India’s major religious communities with a common set of rules applicable to all citizens. Proponents argue that a UCC would promote equality, streamline legal processes, and reinforce secularism, while critics fear it could infringe on religious freedoms and cultural identities. This article explores the potential benefits and drawbacks of implementing a UCC in India, weighing its impact on social harmony, gender justice, and national unity against the challenges of resistance and practical implementation.

History Embarked

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India traces its roots back to the colonial era, when the British government initiated a review of Indian laws in 1835, advocating for uniform codification across various legal domains. However, challenges arose due to the diversity of religious and cultural practices. The Lex Loci report of 1840 recommended excluding personal laws of Hindus and Muslims from this codification, acknowledging the sensitivity of religious practices.

Despite initial setbacks, the concept of a UCC persisted. In 1941, the B N Rau Committee was established to codify Hindu law, culminating in the Hindu Succession Act of 1956[i], a milestone towards uniformity in personal laws. During the drafting of the Indian Constitution, Article 44 of the Directive Principles of State Policy[ii] emphasized the need for a UCC, reflecting the framers’ vision for a unified legal framework. The history of the UCC reflects a gradual evolution from colonial aspirations to recent endeavors to codify personal laws and promote social equality. Despite ongoing debate and complexity, the idea of a UCC remains relevant in contemporary Indian society.

Conflict with Article 25

The implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India raises legal concerns regarding its potential conflict with Article 25 of the Indian Constitution[iii], which guarantees religious freedom. Personal laws, deeply rooted in religious beliefs, could be perceived as infringed upon by a UCC, leading to potential litigation. Balancing the state’s interest in equality and secularism with individual cultural identities presents a challenge for the judiciary. While landmark cases like the Shayara Bano case[iv] demonstrate the court’s willingness to intervene in discriminatory laws, a wholesale implementation of the UCC may redefine the limits of Article 25.  The judiciary’s role extends to harmonizing Article 25 with other constitutional mandates, such as the Directive Principles of State Policy advocating for a UCC. The courts may uphold a UCC if it reasonably restricts religious freedom to promote social justice, gender equality, and national integration.

Directive Principles of State Policy

Article 44 of the Indian Constitution’s Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) states that “the state must work to establish a UCC across India.” These principles, enshrined in Part IV of the Constitution, aim to guide the governance of the country and ensure social justice, but they are not enforceable by any court. The DPSPs serve as fundamental guidelines for the creation of a just society in India, addressing various socio-economic and political issues. The DPSPs were inspired by the Irish Constitution[v] and included in the Indian Constitution to ensure that the state actively promotes the welfare of its people. They cover a wide range of areas, including the provision of adequate means of livelihood, equal pay for equal work, protection of children and economic interests of weaker sections, and the organization of agriculture and animal husbandry.

7th Schedule of the Indian Constitution

The Concurrent List of the 7th Schedule of the Indian Constitution[vi] allows both the Union and State Governments to legislate on matters such as marriage and divorce, adoption, and succession. This dual authority means that while the Union Government can propose a Uniform Civil Code, individual states have the power to make changes to these laws as per their regional requirements. For example, the Indian Evidence Act has seen modifications by states like Tamil Nadu to address specific local needs. Similarly, states have the autonomy to implement or modify laws passed by the Union Government in ways that best suit their demographic and cultural contexts.

Both Advantages & Disadvantages of Implementing UCC[vii]:

AspectAdvantagesDisadvantages
Equality and Social JusticeEnsures equality before the law and removes disparities in personal laws, treating all citizens equally irrespective of religion.Perceived as a threat to the cultural and religious identity of minority communities, potentially leading to resistance and unrest.
Secularism and National IntegrationReinforces India’s secular fabric and promotes national integration by governing all citizens with the same laws, reducing divisions.May be seen as an attempt to homogenize diverse cultural practices, leading to a loss of cultural identity.
Legal Certainty and SimplificationProvides legal certainty and simplifies the legal framework, making the legal process more straightforward and less cumbersome.Requires extensive consultation and consensus-building among stakeholders, making implementation complex and challenging.
Women’s EmpowermentAddresses discriminatory practices in personal laws, ensuring equal rights for women in marriage, divorce, inheritance, and property.Could provoke social unrest among communities that view it as an infringement on their religious and cultural practices.

Can the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code help reduce communal riots?

The implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India could potentially reduce communal riots by addressing legal and social issues that fuel inter-community tensions. A UCC would establish a single set of laws for personal matters, eliminating disparities and perceived injustices, promoting fairness and equality. It would reinforce secularism by treating all citizens equally under the law, reducing favoritism, and building trust[viii].

Image Credits to Center for Study for Society & Secularism

Here, the State of Uttarakhand still faced a Communal Riot after implementing UCC, but while addressing discriminatory personal laws in them, particularly those affecting women, a UCC could foster gender justice and social reform, reducing jealousy and conflict between communities. Simplifying legal processes would also help resolve disputes more efficiently, minimizing the risk of violence. Moreover, a UCC could strengthen national identity, reducing communal divisions. But then implementing a UCC poses significant challenges. Resistance from religious communities fearing infringement on their practices could exacerbate tensions and lead to unrest. There is a risk of political misuse of the UCC to stoke communal sentiments. Concerns about the loss of cultural identity might provoke backlash, and the diverse nature of India means extensive consultations and a phased approach are necessary to avoid protests and violent reactions.

Practical and Constitutional Challenges

  1. Practical Difficulties & Privacy Concerns

The UCC could face practical difficulties due to India’s immense diversity. The country’s various communities have distinct customs and traditions, making the implementation of a single code challenging. The UCC could also infringe on the fundamental right to privacy guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. Personal matters like marriage and inheritance are deeply private, and any state intervention could be perceived as an overreach.

  • Reaffirming Secularism

The UCC could reaffirm India’s commitment to secularism by treating all citizens equally under the law, irrespective of their religion. By having a single set of laws governing personal matters, the state can demonstrate its impartiality and ensure that all citizens are subject to the same legal standards.

  • Simplification of the Legal System

The UCC could streamline the legal system, making procedures simpler and ensuring consistency in how laws are applied across the country. Currently, different communities are governed by different personal laws, leading to a complex and sometimes contradictory legal landscape. A UCC would reduce this complexity and make the legal system more accessible and understandable.

  • Gender Equality & Social Harmony

One of the most compelling arguments for the UCC is its potential to promote gender justice. Personal laws in many communities are often discriminatory towards women, particularly in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and property rights. The UCC could help counter these regressive practices and ensure greater protection and equality for women. The UCC could eliminate disparate legal systems based on different religions and communities, promoting social harmony. By ensuring that all citizens are governed by the same laws, the UCC could help foster a sense of unity and reduce inter-community tensions.

Conclusion

The Uniform Civil Code is a double-edged sword. While it has the potential to bring about equality, social justice, and national integration, it also poses significant challenges related to cultural sensitivity, minority rights, and practical implementation. The objective of Article 44 was to address discrimination and harmonize diverse cultural groups, but as Dr. B.R. Ambedkar pointed out, a UCC should remain voluntary until the nation is ready to accept it. The debate over the UCC is not just about legal reform; it is about balancing the principles of equality and secularism with the need to respect India’s rich cultural diversity.

This Article was Authored by

Naga Suganeswar

Pursuing BBA LLB

From Christ University, Pune Lavasa Campus

References


[i]  https://thc.nic.in/Central%20Governmental%20Acts/Hindu%20Succession%20Act,%201956.pdf

[ii] https://www.mea.gov.in/Images/pdf1/Part4.pdf

[iii] https://www.mea.gov.in/Images/pdf1/Part3.pdf

[iv] https://main.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2016/6716/6716_2016_Judgement_22-Aug-2017.p

[v]  https://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/cons/en/html

[vi]  https://www.mea.gov.in/Images/pdf1/S7.pdf

[vii] https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-12620-the-uniform-civil-code-ucc-in-india-a-boon-or-bane-.html

[viii] https://csss-isla.com/secular-perspective/report-on-communal-violence-in-india-february-2024/

Other References

  1. https://ucc.uk.gov.in/
  2. https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis/need-for-ucc
  3. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/uttarakhand-assembly-passes-ucc-bill-becomes-first-state-to-implement-uniform-civil-code/articleshow/107511085.cms
  4. Uniform Civil Code: An Ignored Constitutional Imperative – A Book by M. S. Ratnaparkhi