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The Big Picture – Uniform Civil Code: What’s the agenda?

The Big Picture – Uniform Civil Code: What’s the agenda?

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Summary:

The supreme court of India recently sought the review of the government on implementing the Uniform Civil Code. The government has said that though it is necessary for national integration any decision to execute it can be taken only after wider consultations with various personal law boards and other stakeholders. It is also being said that it is not possible or practicable to reconcile divergent laws and formulate a uniform or common code acceptable to all the communities. The main argument of those who speak in favour of such a code is that it has the potential to unite India. A comparative study of the personal laws of Hindus, Muslims and other minorities will reveal that the sheer diversity of these laws, coupled with the dogmatic zeal with which they are adhered to, cannot permit uniformity of any sort.

The common knowledge about Uniform civil code includes a common law understanding of the concept of marriage and succession or property among other things. Article 44 of the Constitution of India states that ”The State shall endeavour to secure the citizen a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India”. However, these are just Directive Principles and are not enforceable in any court of law under Article 37 of the Constitution. Though these can be regarded as the fundamentals of governance, the Constitution itself is unclear of its stand about the implementation of UCC which it does not make mandatory.

A uniform civil code means that all citizens of India have to follow the same laws whether they are Hindus or Muslims or Christians or Sikhs. A uniform civil code doesn’t mean it will limit the freedom of people to follow their religion. It will help in improving the condition of women in India. It will also help in reducing vote bank politics that most political parties indulge in during every election. In India, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Parsis have their respective personal laws. This system of diverse personal laws has enjoyed state protection from the earliest years of the post-Constitution era. In 1954, Parliament had enacted a secular matrimonial law, the Special Marriage Act, but it was soon followed by a separate Hindu Marriage Act.

The supreme court, on several instances has directed the government to realise the directive principle enshrined in the Constitution with regard to the UCC. The need of the Uniform Civil Code has been suffered for about a century. It is high time that India had a uniform law dealing with marriage, divorce, succession, inheritance and maintenance. Even the Western countries like Italy and France have enforced it. But, the scenario in India is a lot more complex. India has a strong and long history of personal laws and it cannot be given up easily. A broad consensus must be drawn among different communities to facilitate such a landmark step in India’s religious, social, political and most importantly judicial history.