UNIFORM CIVIL CODE: A BOON OR BANE FOR INDIA

Abstract

This article discusses the pros and cons of implementing a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India. The UCC would be a set of laws governing marriage, inheritance, adoption, etc., that applies to all Indians regardless of religion. Supporters of the UCC argue that it would promote gender equality, national unity, and social progress. They also say it would streamline personal laws and reduce confusion. Opponents of the UCC argue that it would violate the rights of minorities and be against the principle of secularism. They also say it would be challenging to implement due to India’s complexity of personal laws.

The article discusses the legal framework for the UCC, including relevant articles of the Indian Constitution and Supreme Court judgments. It also highlights the ongoing debate about the necessity and feasibility of the UCC.

KEYWORDS: Uniform Civil Code (UCC), personal laws, secularism, minorities, federalism, social harmony, equality, gender justice

INTRODUCTION

Imagine a giant puzzle where every piece represents a different rule about how people live their lives—what they can and can’t do, especially regarding things like marriage, inheritance, and family matters. Now, picture a magic thread that weaves through all these pieces, connecting them to create one clear picture. That’s what a Uniform Civil Code is like—it’s a set of rules everyone in a country follows, no matter where they’re from or what they believe. It’s like saying, “Hey, let’s all play by the same rules so everyone gets treated fairly.” Sounds pretty neat, right? The neater it looks, the more complicated it is. The Uniform Civil Code has its roots in colonial India, where the British government in 1835 proposed standardising Indian laws related to crimes, evidence, and contracts. However, they suggested excluding the personal laws of Hindus and Muslims from this codification. After India gained independence, the increasing complexity of personal laws led to the formation of the B.N. Rao Committee in 1941. This committee was tasked with drafting a Hindu Code Bill to codify Hindu laws and ensure equal rights for women. The question here arises: what are the challenges and hurdles that will come in the path of implementing a Uniform Civil Code? Implementing a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India faces significant hurdles stemming from political inertia, as no political party has demonstrated a sustained commitment due to fear of alienating their voter base. [i]Additionally, various stakeholders lack consensus regarding the scope, content, and form of the UCC, further complicating its enactment. Furthermore, a lack of awareness and education among the populace regarding their legal rights and the potential benefits and drawbacks of the UCC contributes to the challenges. Misinformation and propaganda perpetuated by vested interests and communal forces exacerbate these issues, hindering progress towards a unified legal framework. At this crossroads, we see two paths ahead, each telling a different story about the Uniform Civil Code (UCC): one sees it as a way to bring people together and move forward, promising fairness and transparent rules for everyone. On the other hand, some worry that rushing into it could cause problems, like making people feel like their traditions and ways of life aren’t respected. So, the debate continues, with people sharing their hopes and fears, trying to figure out what’s best for everyone. [ii]

UNIFORM CIVIL CODE: “BRIDGING THE DIVIDE OR BINDING THE SOUL”

If, for a while, we consider that UCC is a bane, firstly, its implementation will be against the principle of secularism. It will violate articles 25 to 28 of our constitution, and that’s why it is a threat to the rights of minorities. Our constitution explicitly says that India is a secular country. From articles 25 to 28, religious freedom is given to the country’s citizens so that they can follow or practice any religion they choose the way they want. Implementing UCC will be against the provision of our constitution as people’s laws will not be applicable in the country, and they have to follow common law. It is definitely against their beliefs, and chances are that India can also become a Hindu nation if the government implements such a code with a political manifesto, as Hindus are the majority in our country. In the case of S.R. Bommai v. Union of India,[iii] Supreme Court held that Secularism is an essential feature of our constitution. It was also said in this case that religion and politics cannot be mixed. If the state follows unsecular policies or courses of action, it acts contrary to the constitutional mandate. Through this implementation, people cannot enjoy the fundamental right to practice religion. In the case of Bijoe Emmaul v. State of Kerala, it was emphasised by the court that The Court recognised that compelling individuals to sing the National Anthem against their religious beliefs would violate their fundamental rights under Article 25. B.R. Ambedkar, during the framing of the constitution, said there was a need to implement UCC but later denied this idea as he believed it was not the right time to implement such a code. He agreed to add Article 44.[iv] In our constitution so that UCC can be implemented in future, but is today the right time for implementing UCC when there are incidents of religious violence such as the 2002 Akshardham Temple attack by Islamic terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba[v], the 2006 Varanasi bombings (also by Lashkar-e-Toiba), resulting in many deaths and injuries. The Godhra train burning incident[vi], in which Hindus were burned alive allegedly by Muslims closing the door of a train. If UCC is implemented, there will be a disturbance in the country and a violation of public order, and it will lead to greater religious violence.

 Federalism[vii] Is the basic structure of our constitution recognised in the case of Kesavananda Bharati[viii] . Federalism allows for accommodating and recognising regional aspirations and identities within a unified nation. UCC will undermine federalism. Personal matters are under the Concurrent List, and the Parliament and state legislature are empowered to make laws on them. Also, the power given to the state under Article 254(2)[ix] Will also be affected, and our constitutional provision will be violated because of the implementation of UCC. Imposing a UCC could undermine the federal structure by infringing upon states’ rights to legislate on such matters. Goa’s implementation[x] UCC was praised by the Supreme Court in 2019, but the ground reality reveals complexities and legal pluralities within the state’s UCC. However, the UCC in Goa permits a specific form of polygamy for Hindus and does not extend the Shariat Act to Muslims (Portuguese and Shastri Hindu laws govern them). Additionally, Catholics enjoy certain privileges, such as exemption from marriage registration and the ability of Catholic priests to dissolve marriages. This highlights the complexity of personal laws in India, even within a state known for implementing a UCC.

These are believed to be why UCC cannot be implemented in our country as we don’t want a law that will create violence in the country, which will violate the existing provisions of the constitution of our country and have several complexities in places where it is already implemented.

India, a land of vibrant diversity, also grapples with a complex legal landscape regarding personal matters. The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) proposes a revolutionary approach – a single set of laws governing marriage, inheritance, adoption, and other civil issues applicable to all citizens, irrespective of religion. So far, it is evident that this article delves into the UCC, exploring its legal framework, supporting cases, and the ongoing debate surrounding it. It is also crucial to understand the necessity of the Uniform Civil Code and what changes the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code will bring. Indian Prime Minister, in his recent address, expressed his support for the implementation of aUniform Civil Code (UCC) in India, stating that India cannot function efficiently with a system of “separate laws for separate communities”.[xi] India, being a diverse nation, is home to numerous religions, each with its particular personal laws governing marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance and succession. It would be correct to claim that the absence of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has only perpetuated disparities and inconsistencies in our land of great diversity. This has hindered the nation’s progress towards social harmony and economic and gender justice.[xii] The discussion of the UCC dates back to the discussions of the Constituent Assembly. One may argue that the Indian Constitution, discussions held in the Constituent Assembly, and rulings rendered by the Supreme Court of India support the legitimacy of UCC.[xiii] Under the Special Marriage Act of 1954, civil marriage is permitted for any citizen, regardless of religion, allowing any Indian to get married outside of religious custom.[xiv] This tends to state why the Uniform Civil Code is Crucial. Despite civil marriage options and the Shah Bano case[xv] highlighting the need for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), India still lacks a unified system. The Shah Bano case, where a woman was maintained under a general law, underlines the potential for the UCC to ensure equal rights across religions. The Supreme Court further recommended that the long-pending Uniform Civil Code should be finally enacted.[xvi] The Supreme Court called on the government to implement the UCC in the 1995 Sarla Mudgal judgement[xvii] and the Paulo Coutinho vs Maria Luiza Valentina Pereira case (2019)[xviii]. These judgments strongly advocate for a UCC to bring legal clarity and national uniformity.India’s religious sects were to be governed by a unified body of rules, known as the Uniform Civil Code (UCC).Enshrined in Article 44, Part 4, of the Indian Constitution, its goal was to guarantee a national civil code for all citizens. This code, which addresses topics like marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance, adoption, and succession, is predicated on the idea that in contemporary society, religion and law should have no bearing on one another. [xix] As the world transitions into the digital age, the social attitudes and aspirations of the young population are shaped by universal and global principles of equality, humanity and modernity. A Uniform Civil Code, if implemented thoughtfully, could streamline personal laws in India, promoting national unity and potentially fostering social progress while respecting diverse traditions. Therefore, it can be said:  

“A land of faiths, a patchwork bright, Laws of many, hold us tight. A standard code, a whispered plea, Equality for you and me.

One law for marriage, birth, and end, Justice blind, a trusted friend. Respect for faith, with open hand, One India, united we stand.”

Thus, enacting the Uniform Civil Code will help them realise their full nation-building potential. Uniform Civil Code (UCC) was to be the single set of laws that all religious sects in India had to abide by. Its objective was to ensure that all citizens had access to a national civil code, and it was included in Article 44, Part 4 of the Indian Constitution. This code, which covers matters such as adoption, succession, inheritance, divorce, support, and marriage, is based on the notion that religion and law should not interfere with one another in modern society. [xx] Therefore, the Uniform Civil Code will promote gender equality and keep men and women at par. Many personal laws exist, including the Hindu Code, Sharia Law, etc. So many laws lead to confusion, complexity, and inconsistencies in adjudicating personal matters, sometimes resulting in delayed or incomplete justice. UCC will help the judiciary deliver justice efficiently and within a reasonable timeframe.[xxi]

CONCLUSION

Crafting a Uniform Civil Society demands more than a sweeping stroke of legislation in the mosaic of our societal evolution. It calls for the delicate artistry of brick-by-brick construction, each laid with the precision of justice and the mortar of compassion.

As we draft the blueprint for a Uniform Civil Code, let us not forget the intricate tapestry of our society. Each provision must resonate with the harmonious chords of social adaptability and gender equity woven into the very fabric of our collective identity.

Whether we opt for a single, inclusive law or choose the path of tailored reforms, our compass must invariably point towards the North Star of constitutional equality. Yet, amid the legal labyrinth, a more profound quest beckons – cultivating trust between governance and governing. In this sacred trust, the seeds of a truly equitable society are sown, where human rights blossom and gender equality flourishes. In our journey towards this noble destination, let us remember that the tower of a just society transcends the mere uniformity of codes – it is built upon the bedrock of shared values and mutual respect. India’s journey towards a Uniform Civil Code has two faces. While it promises a more unified and equitable nation, navigating the delicate balance between national integration and respecting cherished traditions will be the test; only time will reveal if it becomes a boon or a bane.

SUBMITTED BY:

DEVANSHI SHARMA

NITIKA CHAUDHARY

B.A. LL.B (HONS.) II YEAR (IV SEMESTER)

HIMACHAL PRADESH NATIONAL LAW UNIVERSITY, SHIMLA


[i] The Economic Times, What’s Uniform Civil Code: What does the Constitution say about the UCC, and why is it so controversial in India? Available at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/how-to/what-is-uniform-civil-code-what-does-constitution-say-about-it-why-its-such-a-controversial-topics-in-india/articleshow/101348565.cms?from=mdr (last visited 25 May 2024).

[ii][ii] Ibid.

[iii] S.R Bommai v. UOI 1994 AIR SC 1918.

[iv] Article 44, Constitution of India.

[v] The Hindu, Accused in 2002 Akshardham Temple Attack in Gujarat Arrested available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/accused-in-2002-akshardham-temple-attack-in-gujarat-arrested/article25598887.ece (last visited 25 May 2024).

[vi] Leena Mishra, The Indian Express, Decode Politics: Modi raising report on 2002 Godhra train burning incident available at https://indianexpress.com/article/political-pulse/modi-2002-godhra-riots-lalu-congress-9313205/ (7 May 2024) (last visited 25 May 2024).

[vii] Jain, M. P. (1964). FEDERALISM IN INDIA. Journal of the Indian Law Institute, 6(4), 355–379. http://www.jstor.org/stable/43950710.

[viii] Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Karnataka AIR 1973 SC 1461.

[ix] Article 254(2), Constitution of India.

[x] Goa Law Adapts a Uniform Civil Code but Retains Complexities. https://prsindia.org/policy/monthly-policy-review/august-2018 (last visited May 24, 2024).

[xi] Ranjan Soloman, UCC Will Disrupt, Destroy India’s Pluralism available at https://www.thecitizen.in/opinion/uniform-civil-code-will-disrupt-destroy-indias-pluralism-949865  ( 24 July 2023, 10: 12 a.m.) (last visited 24 May 2024).

[xii] M. Venkaiah Naidu, The Hindu, India Needs a Uniform Civil Code available at https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/india-needs-a-uniform-civil-code/article67050330.ece

(17 July 2023, 12:15 p.m.) (last visited 24 May 2024).

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Special Marriage Act, 1954, Section 4 (India).

[xv] Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum and Ors. 1985 Air (945).

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Smt. Sarla Mudgal, President, Kalyani v. Union of India and Ors. 1995 AIR 1531.

[xviii] 2019 AIR SC 1135.

[xix]Nitin Kumar, IndiaTvnews, Uniform Civil Code in India: Understanding its need and significance in present-day available at https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/what-is-uniform-civil-code-in-india-understanding-its-need-and-significance-in-present-day-2024-02-06-915472  (6 February 2024) (last visited 24 May 2024).

[xx] Aman Lekhi, The Hindu, Uniform Civil Code: Clash of Moral Universalism and Cultural Pluralism available at https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/uniform-civil-code-clash-of-moral-universalism-and-cultural-pluralism/article67105045.ece (24 May 2023) (last visited 24 May 2024).

[xxi] Diksha Munjal, The Hindu, Uniform Civil Code available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/explained-the-uniform-civil-code/article66105351.ece (3 JULY 2023) (last visited 24 May 2024).