By Lekha Vijaya:
The question of rolling out a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India has been haunting us ever since independence. We have been sitting on Article 44, a directive principle of state policy for more than five decades. Still, no affirmative step has been taken for its implementation. It is not going to be an easy task, and that is why none of the post-independent Governments of India made any try. To reach a consensus here is no small job, but it is worth taking a risk. Because the result is going to bind us all together under a single rule of law. Union Law minister Sadananda Gowda’s comment on the same has now brought the debate of UCC back into the arena.
Unlike a unique criminal code for the whole of India, in civil matters we follow the personal laws based on religion. In matters like marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc., people follow their personal laws. Personal laws can still be upheld, but for introducing a uniform legality throughout the nation regarding the personal affairs of its citizens, in my opinion UCC is a must. Our Constitution itself ensures, through the six fundamental rights that all citizens in India should be treated equally irrespective of their caste, religion, sex or place of birth. The various laws enacted by the Parliament are in accordance with these provisions. Implementing a UCC is something similar too.
In civil issues if one approaches the courts, the decision is always taken in favour of his/her fundamental rights, not according to religious laws. The Shah Bano case (1985) is an example of this. In its ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the right to maintenance for Shah Bano from her husband after divorce, contrary to what was given in the Muslim Personal law. The Supreme Court has always reminded the Government about bringing a UCC now and then, while making judgements in such civil issues.
The Special Marriage Act of 1954 is an example of how a UCC on marriage can be. As per the act, any two people can get married irrespective of their religion under a common law in India. For succession too, we have an Indian Succession Act that cuts across religious lines. By carefully deliberating the clauses in such acts by consulting with the stakeholders, we could have extended it to all citizens, replacing the existing personal laws. After all, the main objective of the UCC is to bring a law where all citizens irrespective of their caste or gender or religion are treated equally. It also aims to eliminate certain evil practices that exist in personal laws. We have already abolished Sati. Like that, polygamy and child marriages too need to be done away with. For this, we need a more stringent Uniform civil code.
The Congress Government has all through these years not taken a firm stand in issuing a uniform civil code, clearly a political prank to appease various religious communities. Not just the Congress, but most of the political parties uphold a pseudo-secular view when it comes to the UCC. Bringing a UCC was one of the agendas of the BJP regime. Their proximity to the Hinduvta groups and rising communal tension in the country can raise a possible suspicion among the minorities regarding their support for the UCC. So the Government needs to consider the concerns and apprehensions of different religious groups in this matter.
Imposition of the law of majority over the minority is not what a UCC is targeting. All religious communities, especially the minorities who fear a possible intervention in their religious matters should be taken into confidence first. Buddhist, Jain and Sikh are already under the Hindu Civil code even though their religious perspectives are quite different. Like that, we can bring a Uniform Civil Code which will bind the 120 million people of India together.