Uniform Civil Code (UCC)
India is a country of geographical, cultural, social, racial caste, ethic, belief, language, political, and religious diversity. Despite the differences, it’s important for the country to maintain peace and harmony among all, and the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) was deemed to be one solution for the same. It aims to replace the existing personal laws that are based on religious belief.
What is the Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?
In common words, “UCC means one country, one law” One law for the entire country of 1.4 billion citizens in India. The idea behind UCC is to have common laws governing personal matters, including marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance, and succession, for all citizens, regardless of their religion or diversified background.
The concept of a Uniform Civil Code was first introduced in India in the 1950s, as part of the Directive Principles of State Policy enshrined in the Indian Constitution. The code comes under Part IV of Article 44 of the Constitution of India, which says that “the State shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India”, Though the UCC was fundamental to the country’s governance, but Dr. B. R. Ambedkar while formulating the Constitution, had said that a UCC was desirable but for the moment it should remain voluntary.
Origin of UCC
The first want for UCC goes back to colonial India when the British government in 1835 submitted a report emphasising the need for uniformity in Indian laws.
In 1985, the demand for UCC came to the fore in the judgement pronounced in the Shah Bano Case vs. MR Mohd Ahmed Khan (Her husband). Shah Bano had moved the apex court seeking maintenance after her husband divorced her after 40 years of marriage by giving triple talaq and denied her regular maintenance for her and her five children’s.
Though Bano’s husband appealed in the Supreme Court, stating that he had fulfilled all his obligations under the Islamic law, the Supreme Court ruled in her favour under the “maintenance of wives children and parents” provision (Section 125) of the All-India Criminal Code, which applied to all citizens, irrespective of religion, along with the recommendation to set up UCC in India.
Some chief ministers of BJP ruled states like Uttarakhand, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, and Gujarat have been working to implement the UCC for some time. The movement to implement UCC got some momentum on June 14, 2023, when the Law commission of India issued a public notice, soliciting views and opinions on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC).
Law Commission of India chairperson Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi (retd) with other members | ANI
According to the notice, the “public at large” and “recognised religious organisations” can send their views about the UCC within 30 days. Submissions can also be made in the form of consultations/discussions or working papers on any of the issues pertaining to the code. As per the latest news report. the Law Commission has received around 8.5 lakh responses from various stakeholders.
The movement got accelerated when the Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing BJP workers during the “mera booth sabse majboot” programme in Bhopal on Jun 27, 2023, advocated the implementation of UCC. He stressed the fact that there cannot be different sets of laws for the same people in the country, as the Constitution of India also talks about equal rights for the citizens.
PM Modi addresses public meeting Mera Booth Sabse Majboot in Bhopal- The Statesman
Which states have UCC?
The Indian state of Goa, was separated from India due to colonial rule in the erstwhile Portuguese Goa and Daman, retained a common family law known as the Goa civil code, thus being the only state in India with a UCC till date. State of Uttarakhand has the “UCC draft” ready and may be the first state in the country to implement UCC. Soon, UCC is expected to get implemented across the country soon.
Why UCC is a controversial topic.
The concept of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has been a topic of intense debate and discussion. Some minority groups and a few political parties that believes in “Vote Bank Politics” Opposed UCC as a strategy to please some religious and minority groups and win elections.
Members of the Muslim community stage a protest against the Uniform Civil Code set up by the Uttarakhand government in Dehradun. (PTI file)
Opponents argue that imposing the UCC may dilute their unique rights and restrict their religious freedom, but Proponents plead that the UCC would promote gender equality, secularism, and a unified legal system.
People have protested the UCC for years. (Reuters: Amit Dave)
What changes will happen after UCC Implementation?
The UCC is expected to replace the personal laws followed by some religions. Except for Islam, It may not have much impact on the major religions followed in India.
Currently, the Muslim Personal (Shariat) Application Act, 1937, states that Shariat or Islamic law, will guide marriage, divorce, Inheritance, and the maintenance of Islam followers. Some changes that are expected after UCC Implementations are
- The Minimum age of marriage under Shariat law is 15 years, which is contradictory to the POSCO Act (The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act) which does not permit marriage below the age of 18 years.
- Recently the National Commission for Women (NCW) have filed a petition at the Supreme Court stating that “Allowing Muslim girls to marry when they attain puberty, presumed to be at 15 years old, is discriminatory”, According to the women’s panel, “A person who has attained puberty may be biologically capable of reproduction. however, the same does not imply that the said person is mentally and psychologically mature enough to get married and physically mature to engage in sexual acts and consequently, bear children,
- After UCC, the marriageable age will be changed from 15 years to 18 years.
- Divorce under Muslim law is always a concern. UCC will abolish all forms of talaq. (Especially triple talaq, which gives the power to the man to divorce his wife just by uttering the word talaq thrice times).
- Polygamy is a very accepted practice under Muslim law and after UCC implementation, practise of polygamy will be an offence.
- Maintenance under Muslim laws has been a matter of primary concern, as was observed in the case of Shah Bano Case vs. MR Mohd Ahmed Khan (Her husband). UCC will bring rights to women to claim maintenance for lifetime
- Adoption practises will change. Except Hindu Law, no other personal law has clear directives for adoption practise. After UCC, any couple would be allowed to adopt a child and legally claim the status of being the adoptive parents of the child. The Child will be entitled to all rights given to a natural person, including the property of his adoptive father.
- Succession and inheritance are not equal in Muslim law and differ a lot between Sunni and Shia law, and within the same family members. UCC would lead to drastic changes and bring equality.
- Muslim marriage is a contractual obligation that will be abolished. Registration of marriage will be compulsory after UCC.
Will UCC get implemented on 5 Aug. 2023?
The decision to implement a UCC lies in the hands of the Indian government and the legislative process. Some assume that the Uniform Civil Code will likely be tabled in the monsoon session of the parliament and will be the first historic bill to be introduced in the newly inaugurated parliament building on May 28, 2023.
As some major decisions in India were taken on 5th August, like “Ram Mandir’s decision was taken on August 5, Section 370 was removed on August 5, and there have been speculations that the UCC may also get implemented on August 5, 2023
There is no doubt about the fact that UCC will bring changes to the existing personal laws, but it is also expected to bring equality, harmony, and eliminate ambiguity, as detailed above.
Some believe that advocating UCC was a masterstroke by the Central government before the 2024 elections, which has already created differences of opinion among political leaders. Some political parties have expressed their support for UCC implementation, but the debate continues, with different political parties, religious groups, and civil society organisations expressing varying opinions and perspectives.
Though there are no social, cultural, or legal reasons to oppose UCC, some religious, community, and political leaders feel that UCC is an election-winning strategy of the central government and a strategy to promote Hinduism. However, the same needs to be looked at beyond “Vote bank politics.” Some also feel that the UCC needs to be renamed the “Indian Civil Code” (ICC). Whether we call it UCC or ICC, logically, UCC or ICC implementation seems to be a step towards creating uniformity, harmony, and equality among citizens and “Women Empowerment,” which reaffirms India’s global status as a “Democratic nation.”
- “Gauri Kulkarni, Uniform Civil Code, Legally services India.”
- 1985 SCR (3) 844
- Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure
- Almas Sheikh, Legal Laws Governing Adoption in India
- The Hindu Bureau, December 10, 2022
- Organiser: Voice of the Nation, dated June 30, 2023
- ANI News
- BBC News
- The statesman