Ever since its formation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has had three core pledges. The abrogation of Article 370, the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). With the two boxes already checked, all eyes are now on the Modi-Shah duo for one final push, which would result in completing the saffron party’s promise to its core voters.
What is Uniform Civil Code?
The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) calls for the formulation of single law, which would be applicable to all citizens of India in their personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption. It is intended to replace the system of fragmented personal laws, which currently govern interpersonal relationships and related matters within different religious communities. Currently, different laws regulate these aspects in India for adherents of different religions, for example, Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Indian Christian Marriages Act, Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act. However, Muslim personal laws are not codified and are based on their religious texts.
The code comes under Article 44 of the Constitution, which lays down that the state shall endeavor to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India. The need for such a code was felt to take into account the constitutional mandate of securing justice and equality for all its citizens.
Reportedly, many other countries including France, United Kingdom , United States , Australia, Germany, etc. already have similar laws in place, which ensures the principle of one country, one law. Meanwhile, in India many are demanding the same and it seems to be only a matter of time that a bill gets introduced in the Parliament by the ruling party.
What is Article 44?
The objective of Article 44 of the Directive Principles in the Indian Constitution was to address the discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise diverse cultural groups across the country. Dr. B R Ambedkar, while formulating the Constitution had said that a UCC is desirable but for the moment it should remain voluntary, and thus the Article 35 of the draft Constitution was added as a part of the Directive Principles in part IV of the Constitution of India as Article 44. It was incorporated in the Constitution as an aspect that would be fulfilled when the nation would be ready to accept it.
Origin of Uniform Civil Code
The origin of the UCC dates back to the pre-independence era when the British government, in a report submitted in 1835, stressed on “the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, and contracts”, and insisted “personal laws of Hindus and Muslims be kept outside such codification.”
During the setting up of the Constituent Assembly in 1946, there were two types of members on the basis of their opinion regarding the implementation of UCC. One includes Dr.BR Ambedkar who supported the UCC and the others, mostly minority groups, who supported personal laws Therefore; it couldn’t be enforced by the court of law.
What will Uniform Civil code do?
The UCC aims to provide protection to vulnerable sections as envisaged by Ambedkar including women and religious minorities, while also promoting nationalistic fervor through unity. When enacted the code will work to simplify laws that are segregated at present on the basis of religious beliefs like the Hindu code bill, Shariat law, and others. The code will simplify the complex laws into set of secular civil laws that will be applicable to all citizens irrespective of their faith. As is being said, unification of the code is not a destination but a journey.
The court observed that the modern Indian society is gradually turning “homogeneous” and dissipating “traditional barriers of religion, community, and caste, and in view of these changing paradigms, a uniform civil code is in order.” However, the political unwillingness and incapacity to call spade a spade has lingered on this issue for very long. The Supreme Court and various High Courts in catena of matters have counseled the governments to enforce a UCC for more than four decades
In Shah Bano Case, 1985 the Supreme Court gave the verdict in favour of Shah Bano who appealed to the court seeking maintenance after her husband divorced her by triple talaq after forty years of marriage and denied her regular maintenance, by applying section 125 of Crpc and also observed a Common Civil Code would help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to law.
In Sarla Mudgal Case, 1995 the question was whether a Hindu husband, married under the Hindu law, by embracing Islam can solemnize the second marriage. The Supreme Court held that adopting Islam for a second marriage is an abuse of personal laws and also directed the government under article 44 to form a uniform code.
Similarlyin John Vallamattom v. Union of India, the petetioner filed a writ petition stating that Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act was discriminatory against the Christians as it imposes unreasonable restrictions on their donation of property for the religious or charitable purpose by will. The Supreme Court struck down the section declaring it to be unconstitutional. These judgements are amongst the multiple instances when the courts have strongly urged the need of having uniform civil code for India.
Ours is a secular democratic republic. Freedom of religion is the core of our culture. Even the slightest of deviation shakes the social fiber. But religious practices, violation of human rights and dignity and sacerdotal suffocation of essentially civil and material freedom are not autonomy but oppression. Therefore, a unified code is imperative, both for protection of the oppressed and for promotion of national unity and solidarity
In the end, we should recall the words of Mahatma Gandhi:
“I do not expect India of my dreams to develop one religion, i.e. to be wholly Christian or wholly Mussalman, but in reality I want it to be wholly tolerant, with its religious working side-by-side with one another”.
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