In a country so diverse like India, can we ever bring people together under a uniform jurisdiction? Will it not adversely affect “the beauty in its diversity”? Questions like these always pop up whenever intellectuals and experts debate on the “Uniform Civil Code.” So, what exactly is a Uniform Civil Code (UCC)? This is basically the formulation of a single set of laws applicable to any community all over India in matters of personal laws which include laws concerning marriages, divorces, guardianship, adoption, inheritance etc. What the Uniform Civil Code aims is to bring the entire population of the country including the minorities and the majority Hindu population under a “uniform” law to settle these matters.
What does the Constitution say?
The constitution, in article 44 (Directive Principles), mentions that the centre shall endeavour to secure for all citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India. There have been debates in the past as to whether we should introduce Uniform Civil Code in the country or not. But a serious problem that cannot be overlooked is that if the uniform civil code is applied, it can be a challenge to the fundamental rights to our faith, belief and religion. Article 44 also implies that it cannot be taken up to the judiciary as it is neither a fundamental right nor is it guaranteed by the constitution.
If at all the framers of the constitution wanted to bring a Uniform Civil Code in the country then it would have been placed in the union list which would have given exclusive power to the parliament to deal with the personal laws. The personal laws, however, are placed in the concurrent list.
What do we have?
Currently, different personal laws are applicable to different religions like the Hindu personal law codified into four segments, Muslim personal law, Christian marriage and Divorce Act and the Parsi Marriages and Divorce Act. The constitution has also made exceptions for states like Nagaland, Assam, Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh, and Goa to protect the identities of regional communities.
The only state in India to have a uniform code is Goa which still follows the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867. However, even this code is not completely uniform as it makes exceptions in some cases.
What are the pros of Uniform Civil Code?
Uniform Civil Code, if devised properly, can be successful in providing equal status to the citizens irrespective of their caste, creed, religion or community. It can provide some kind of consistency in the existing personal laws too. Currently, as the personal laws are derived from the age-old traditions and customs they have been somewhat unjust to women. Various examples of these are a Muslim man is allowed to practice polygamy but the opposite is not acceptable, the male parents (fathers) are assumed to be the natural guardians in custody cases, Hindu women are considered a part of the husbands’ family even after husband’s death and thus their properties fall to them in case of no will or no heir and many more..
It is time the laws in the country should be made gender-neutral which would bring some kind of consistency. There are certain communities present till date which are excluded from the Hindu personal laws and solve their matters with the customary laws. Besides, because the judiciary is not able to deliver timely justice to the people and because not all verdicts are in favour of women, people usually choose customary laws as solutions to their problems.
What are the cons of Uniform Civil Code?
The Uniform Civil Code is going to be met with a lot of protests by the minority groups who feel vulnerable even at this stage when there is growing intolerance in the country. This code can be easily weaponized to be used against minorities and unrest in the country will hype up. Furthermore, the Uniform Civil Code can also be seen as an attempt to homogenise culture. While most of the countries are adopting India’s “legal pluralism” and “parallel legal regimes” as a mark of tolerance and inclusivity of all communities, Uniform Civil Code will not be helpful in meeting Indian constitutional standards nor will India be a model for them.
What did the Law Commission say?
A Law Commission was set up to review the matter which concluded that the Uniform Civil Code is neither feasible nor desirable in the country at this stage. The law commission suggested that since the problem of gender biases and unequal representation remains, it would be best in interest to tweak the personal laws and weed out the “disruptive elements” so that what is meaningful of the laws can be preserved. “It is urged that the legislature should first consider guaranteeing equality within the communities between men and women rather than equality between the communities,” the Law Commission said.
The crux of the matter is that a Uniform Civil Code would have been the ideal way forward in a Utopian community but if thought upon it realistically, it is not something that is possible for our country. India is home to not just many religions but also many tribes and communities. Keeping the minorities suppressed will only increase the wedge in society. Even if we ignore the minorities and talk about the majority Hindu population which by the way includes the Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists, the Uniform Civil Code will not be able to do justice as many women will be left in doubt of their marital status, many Hindu families will be deprived of their property rights and the relaxations enjoyed right now to satisfy them according to their religious and customary needs will also be gone.