The Uniform Civil Code, or UCC, has been a topic of contention for decades.
There are people who support and oppose the UCC. Some people support UCC because
they believe that there must be a similar set of laws that would govern every
citizen of a country. Some people oppose it because they think that their
religious freedom will be compromised, and it is regarded as an attempt by the
central government to homogenize Indian society. However, these arguments have
been made from a layman's perspective.
Contrary to popular opinion, the effects
of the implementation of UCC will not be limited to any one community or
another. Instead, it will have longstanding implications for each and every
person in the country. The UCC seeks to do away with the personal laws in the
country that have governed the aspects of Marriage, Divorce, Adoption, and
Succession for decades.
There was a long-standing debate on the matter of uniform civil code in the
constituent assembly. There were contradictory opinions on the matter from
members belonging to different communities. The sub-committee on fundamental
rights came up with two sets of rights, i.e., justiciable and non-justiciable.
The things that were in the latter half could not be challenged in court.
later formed the Directive Principles of State Policy. The Uniform Civil Code
found itself in the DPSPs. Some members weren't happy with this. Within those
members were two groups, i.e., one set of members wanted it to be placed within
fundamental rights obligating the government to implement the UCC within 10-15
years, while others thought it would infringe on people's religious freedom.
(The Centre for Law and Policy Research )
Under Article 44 of the directive principles of state policy, "the state shall
endeavor to secure for all its citizens a uniform civil code." As it was part of
the DPSPs, the parliament was not obligated to bring it into effect and was left
to the future governments to decide whether to bring in a Uniform Code. The
recent interest in this subject has come from the recent notification issued by
the 22nd Law Commission of India, headed by Ritu Raj Awasthi, a former chief
justice of the Karnataka High Court.
This notification was to elicit public
opinion on a uniform civil code for the country. This notification surprised
many as the 21st Law Commission stated that a UCC was "neither necessary nor
desirable at this stage for the country." (Deka, 2023) In this project, I
will elucidate whether the Uniform Civil Code is essential at this stage in
India and also the challenges that underlie its implementation.
Necessity For The UCC
Differences In Personal Laws
Marriage is considered a sacrament for Hindus. For them, marriage is a necessary
samskara. At the same time, Muslim marriages are a civil contract for the
purpose of legalizing sexual intercourse and the procreation of children. It is
not a sacrament but a contract. Parsi marriages and Christian marriages are also
contracts. However, Christian marriage can also be regarded as a sacrament
through religious teachings. So, the UCC must recognize both aspects and regard
marriage as a sacrament and a contract.
Under the Hindu Marriage Act, bigamy is an offense punishable by imprisonment
for up to 7 years; however, in Muslim personal law, a man can have up to 4
wives, and even if he has a 5th wife, it won't be a penal offense rather the
marriage would just be irregular. In modern India, only Muslim men are allowed
to have more than one wife. Under Muslim law, intersect or interschool marriages
are allowed, but interreligious marriages are restricted. A Sunni male can marry
Christians or Jews but not Sikhs, Hindus, or Parsis.
However, even if he marries
them, the marriage won't be void. It would just be irregular. However, Sunni
females cannot marry non-Muslim men. Under the Shia school, interreligious
marriages are not allowed for both females and males. Under the Hindu Marriage
Act, there are prohibited relationships. Marriage between first cousins is
prohibited; however, similar marriages are not prohibited under the Muslim
Marriage between cousins is prohibited under Hindu Law, while it is allowed
under Muslim Law. The Hindu Marriage Act does not allow marriage between first
cousins. (Thomas, 2010). However, first-cousin marriages are permitted for
Muslims in India.
The marriage involving a person of unsound mind is void under the Special
Marriage Act but voidable at the instance of the other party under the Hindu
Marriage Act and permitted with the consent of the marriage guardian under
Muslim Law. A concept of Muta marriages exists in Muslim law, which permits
temporary marriages. Before the marriage, a duration is specified, after which
the marriage will cease to exist. The wife of a Muta marriage cannot get
maintenance. These are some of the irregularities in the marriage laws of
different religious groups. These irregularities need to be settled on the
grounds of morality and contemporary legal scenarios. (Diwan, 1983)
According to the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955, a Hindu woman can divorce her
husband if he has had voluntary sexual intercourse with any person other than
his spouse after the solemnization of their marriage. However, a Muslim woman
cannot divorce her husband on similar grounds.
In case a Muslim woman has been divorced by her husband, the husband is free to
remarry her. However, in case he divorces her three times, the woman has to
follow the practice of Nikah Halala. Under this, the Muslim woman has to marry
another man and consummate their marriage; later on, only if the husband dies or
willingly divorces his wife can the woman go back to her estranged husband. Such
practices are morally unacceptable and must be banned.
The Hindu Succession Act of 1956, which governs the matters of inheritance and
succession for Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus, states that a Hindu woman
and man have the same right to the property of their deceased parents. This
means that there is no distinction between the inheritance rights of a man and a
woman under this law. Even if the woman is married, she is still entitled to the
same rights. Another provision under this Act is that in case a man dies, his
mother, children, and wife are entitled to equal shares in his property.
However, the deceased man's father shall not receive any share of his property
during the lifetime of his son's mother, children, and wife.
In 2022, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court by Kamal Anant Khopkar,
challenging the gender bias in the Hindu Succession Act. The petition stated
that section 15 of the 1956 Act 'unveils deeply rooted patriarchal ideology.'
Section 15 of this Act deals with the general rules of Succession in the case of
female Hindus. It gave the heirs of a husband more priority than the deceased's
parents. (Rajagopal, 2022)
Under Muslim personal law, a Muslim woman is entitled to 1/4th share of her
husband's property, and in case they had children, she is entitled to 1/8th of
his property. Muslim women are also entitled to the property of their deceased
parents; however, the share of property that they are entitled to is half that
of their male counterparts.
The inheritance and succession of Christians, Parsis, and Jews are governed by
the Indian Succession Act of 1925. A Parsi woman shall be entitled to an equal
share of her children. The deceased man's parents shall be entitled to half the
share of the children of the man. The property shall be divided equally between
the widow and the children if the parents are not alive. A Christian woman whose
husband died would receive 1/3rd of the property if the deceased man had
children. She receives half of his property if he does not have children but has
other relatives or heirs. (Nath, 2022)
These instances show that there are inconsistencies in the succession and
inheritance laws of different communities. They need to be rectified, and the
woman must receive an equal share as her male counterparts.
It has been noticed that women have been discriminated against by these personal
laws. According to Muslim personal law, a girl who has attained 15 years of age
can be married. However, in other personal laws, the marriageable age for women
is 18. In India, Muslim men can practice polygamy, which is indeed contrary to
the interest of women.
A Muslim woman cannot divorce her husband on the grounds
of adultery, while a Hindu woman can. Muslim women are only entitled to half of
what their male counterparts are entitled to. Like the above mentioned, there
are various instances where women face discrimination due to the personal laws
of different communities.
These instances of discrimination can be noticed in
many provisions of personal laws. A Uniform civil code will ensure that the
provisions are made gender-neutral and reduce the discrimination faced by women.
Even though many might argue that personal laws can be amended, the sheer number
of provisions that will require amendment makes this unfeasible.
People believe that a Uniform Civil Code aligns with the secular nature of our
constitution and treats all religions equally. Doing away with religion-based
segregation for different religious communities and establishing a uniform code
for all will foster uniformity among different sections of society and may
increase unity among them. India already has secular laws except in matters that
the UCC seeks to deal with. Many have argued that the Uniform Civil Code will
bring about uniformity in the civil aspects of all the people of the country.
Moreover, it upholds the idea of equal treatment of people before the law,
irrespective of their religious identity. (Chugh, 2023)
Arguments Against The Uniform Civil Code
Starting with the debates in the Constituent Assembly regarding the Uniform
Civil Code, Mahboob Ali Baig Sahib Bahadur, a member of the assembly, stated
that even though most people are of the view that for a country to be secular, a
common set of laws is to be followed by the citizens.
He argued that in the
truest sense, a state is secular when the people of that state have the freedom
to practice their religion and observe their own life and the common laws of
their own personal codes. Other points raised against the UCC in the assembly
were that it violated the right to religion and would create disharmony within
the Muslim Community. It was also argued that no interference should occur
without religious communities' approval. (The Centre for Law and Policy Research
If not appropriately implemented, the UCC will face a massive backlash from the
minority communities in India. Taking into consideration the ideas and beliefs
of all communities in India might not be feasible because of the extent of
diversity in India. The current political situation in India is highly
polarised, which may not provide a conducive environment for the implementation
of UCC. The political parties may make the issue of the UCC into a communal
issue, which would again prove to be detrimental. (Gupta, 2023)
Critics argue that it cannot be forecasted as to what extent the UCC will be
able to provide gender justice, which is considered one of its primary goals.
Will the UCC have a provision for same-sex marriages, and will it indeed provide
equality to women? It is a question that cannot be answered at this stage.
However, it is to be noted that the government had filed an affidavit in the
Supreme Court against legalizing same-sex marriages. So, it cannot be expected
that the government will themselves add such a provision in the UCC.
Many argue that if the primary goal of UCC is to bring about gender justice,
then the personal laws that are discriminatory can be amended. They argue that
there is no need for UCC and that merely amending the personal laws will do.
Challenges In The Implementation Of UCC
The minority communities often see UCC as an attempt to interfere with their
religious freedom and argue that implementation of UCC will hinder their right
to religion enshrined in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. The Muslim
community often sees themselves as the target of the UCC. The All-India Muslim
Personal Law Board asked the law commission "why only Muslims were not being
exempted from the proposed UCC when the government is ready to exclude tribals."
This is a clear manifestation of the fact that Muslims still see themselves as
the "target group" of UCC. (Salam, 2023)
This is a challenge that is very difficult to overcome but needs to be overcome
for the smooth implementation of the UCC. The argument that the UCC will violate
the Right to freedom of religion is a false notion. The Supreme Court had coined
the essential religious practice test in the case of The Commissioner, Hindu
Religious Endowments, Madras v. Shri Lakshmindar Thirtha Swamiyar of Shri Shirur
According to this test, only essential religious practices shall be
protected by Article 25. Many secular practices may be considered an essential
part of religion. However, such notions might, in reality, be superstitious and
not essential to religion; hence, they shall not be protected by the
Constitution of India. The Supreme Court held this in the case of Durgah
Committee Ajmer v. Syed Hussain Ali and Ors. (Ghosh, 2017).
The UCC indeed
seeks to deal with secular aspects that are not essential to religion, and this
means that these secular aspects are not protected by Article 25. Minority
communities should be made to understand the same. Article 25 clause (2)
subclause (b) provides an exception to Article 25. It states that if any law
advocates for positive reform and social welfare, then the operation of this
Article shall not be affected.
India has 17 crore Muslims. Even though it may seem like a large number, they
are still a minority community in India. The Muslim community feels that the
implementation of the UCC will be a threat to their distinct religious
practices. They feel that the implementation of the UCC will homogenize society
and interfere with their religion. (Wajihuddin, 2023)
The Uniform Civil Code, even if implemented in India, may not apply to some
parts of Northeastern India. According to Schedule 6 of the Indian Constitution,
unless and until the state legislatures of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and
Mizoram ratify the center's decision, it shall not be applicable to some tribal
areas of these states.
This is why their views must be considered if the UCC is
to be applied to these states. (Prasad, 2023). Article 371A and 371G also
exclude the applicability of a parliamentary law on customary practices unless
the legislatures of Nagaland and Mizoram give their approval. (Kumar, 2016).
This necessitates a consensus among all the communities about the various
provisions, taking into consideration the practices and beliefs of different
Article 44 does not clearly explain how the Uniform Civil Code should be made.
The Supreme Court has given many judgments that have asked the government to
enact a 'common civil code' and mentioned the necessity of it. Some examples of
such judgments are Ahmed Khan v Shah Bano Begum and Others, Jordan Diengdeh v S
S Chopra (1985), and John Vallamattom and Another v Union of India (2003).
However, even the court has no idea how this civil code should be framed.
A balance needs to be stricken between all the personal laws and the goals of
the Uniform Civil Code. Should a marriage under the UCC be seen as a sacrament
contract or both? Should first-cousin marriages be allowed or not? Should the
property division between men and women be equal in all circumstances or not?
These questions need to be answered by taking public opinion into consideration.
Throughout this project, the need for UCC, the challenges to its implementation,
and the arguments against UCC have been looked at. Based on all these arguments
that have been put forth, the following conclusion shall be drawn.
Most people in India support a uniform civil code because they argue that it
fosters national integration and gender equality. During the constituent
assembly debates, people in support of UCC argued on the following lines. It is
crucial to uphold the secular nature of our country (The Centre for Law and
Policy Research ). As mentioned above, the personal laws in themselves are very
different from each other and contain different provisions. Marriage, divorce,
and succession laws are very different for different communities. So, the UCC
strives to bring about uniformity in these aspects. The personal laws are indeed
discriminatory towards women, and without UCC, it would be difficult to change
It was also argued that a Uniform civil code could bring about amity among
communities. If not implemented carefully, it would face massive backlash and
large-scale resistance from minority communities. The ability of UCC to foster
gender equality has also been questioned. The argument that personal laws can be
amended one by one to remove discriminatory provisions is weak. The sheer amount
of provisions that will have to be amended makes this option infeasible. Each
provision, when amended, will spark opposition from community heads of various
religions. In such circumstances, UCC would be the most feasible option.
Whether or not the Uniform Civil Code fosters secularism is the next important
question that needs to be answered. On the one hand, there is the argument that
it treats all religions equally; hence, it aligns with the secular nature. On
the other hand, there is the argument that a state is secular when the people of
that state have the freedom to practice their religion and observe their own
life and the common laws of their own personal codes. Both these arguments are
strong. However, secularism is the idea that the state shall have no religion
and treat all religions equally.
Every person in India has different civil laws
that govern them based on their religion. This may give more rights to a
particular section of society than others. Let's take succession as an example.
Hindu women and men are entitled to an equal share in the inheritance, while
Muslim women are only entitled to half of what men are entitled to. Here it can
be noticed that Hindu women have more rights than their Muslim counterparts in
cases of succession.
The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) on Sunday said the Uniform
Civil Code (UCC) is neither suitable nor useful for a vast multi-religious
country like India. (PTI, 2021) This argument can reflect the insecurity of
one community regarding the UCC. The UCC must foster the interests of each and
every religious community equally and should pay heed to the distinct religious
practices of every community.
For the northeastern states to accept the code, it is vital that the UCC has
special provisions for them to protect their interest and culture. The lives of
tribals are far different than the lives of other people in India. Making the
UCC more accommodating to their needs is the only thing that is going to make
the state legislatures rectify the code. Otherwise, the UCC will remain
inapplicable to these regions.
Many have argued that bringing in a UCC will help reduce the legal complexity
that comes due to different personal laws. The UCC will help simplify the legal
system. by doing away with diverse personal laws and replacing them with a
single set of laws applicable to all. Citizen's access to justice could be
improved by this simplification, which would remove the need for people to
negotiate various legal systems depending on their connection with a particular
Additionally, it has been argued that a UCC will help foster a
progressive society with modernist thinking. It will do away with outdated
customary practices such as polygamy, Nikah Hala, etc. (Chugh, 2023)
India is a country with almost 97 crore Hindus, 17 crore Muslims, almost three
crore Christians, and crores of people who are Sikhs, Jains, Parsis, Buddhists,
and others. (Census, 2011). This shows the sheer amount of diversity within our
country. There are differences that exist among these people with respect to
their religion, culture, and traditions.
As a secular country, India must
accommodate these differences, and the uniform law must be tolerant towards the
different aspects of each religion and provide special provisions to minorities.
The implementation of the UCC must also be approached with caution. The voices
of the masses must be taken into consideration while framing the UCC. Over 75
lakh suggestions have been received by the law panel on UCC. This is certainly
not a small number, and the government must pay heed to these responses. (Sarda,
- The Centre for Law and Policy Research . (n.d.). UCC-Part-1-Constitutional-History. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from CLPR.
- Deka, K. (2023, August 14). The politics of a Uniform Civil Code. Retrieved from India Today: https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/cover-story/story/20230814-the-politics-of-a-uniform-civil-code-2415996-2023-08-05
- Thomas, S. (2010, September 14). Marriage between 1st cousins illegal, says HC. Retrieved from Times of India: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/marriage-between-1st-cousins-illegal-says-hc/articleshow/6550296.cms
- Diwan, D. P. (1983). Family Law.
- THE MUSLIM WOMEN (PROTECTION OF RIGHTS ON DIVORCE) ACT, 1986 ACT NO. 25 OF 1986
- Rajagopal, K. (2022, April 4). Supreme Court to hear plea challenging gender bias in Hindu inheritance law. Retrieved from The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/supreme-court-to-hear-plea-challenging-gender-bias-in-hindu-inheritance-law/article65289548.ece
- Nath, R. (2022, March 8). Inheritance rights of Hindu, Muslim, Christian women are not the same. Retrieved from The Economic Times: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/wealth/legal/will/inheritance-rights-of-hindu-muslim-christian-women-are-not-the-same/articleshow/90067981.cms?from=mdr
- Chugh, L. (2023, July 11). Uniform Civil Code (UCC): Positive response towards equality and progress. Retrieved from Times of India: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/readersblog/mywriteexpress/uniform-civil-code-ucc-positive-response-towards-equality-and-progress-56242/
- Gupta, R. (2023, April 23). Is it the right time to implement the Uniform Civil Code in India? Retrieved from The Times of India: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/myview/is-it-right-time-to-implement-the-uniform-civil-code-in-india/
- Salam, Z. U. (2023, August 25). Muslim Law Board's stand sought on nikah halala. Retrieved from The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/law-commission-seeks-muslim-boards-stand-on-halala-and-muta/article67234729.ece
- Ghosh, A. (2017, November 1). Essential Religious Paradox? The Supreme Court's interpretation of Article 25. Retrieved from Bar and Bench: https://www.barandbench.com/columns/essential-religious-practices
- Wajihuddin, M. (2023, June 25). Muslims must not fall into BJP trap on uniform civil code is . Retrieved from Times of India: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/muslims-must-not-fall-into-bjp-trap-on-uniform-civil-code-issue/articleshow/101252515.cms?from=mdr
- Prasad, M. (2023, July 5). Uniform Civil Code Won't Affect Northeast, Tribals, Says Minister. Retrieved from NDTV: https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/uniform-civil-code-wont-affect-northeast-tribals-says-minister-4178840
- Kumar, A. P. (2016, June 18). Uniform Civil Code: A Heedless Quest? Retrieved from Economic and Political Weekly : https://www.epw.in/journal/2016/25/law-and-society/uniform-civil-code.html
- PTI. (2021, November 21). Uniform Civil Code not suitable for a multi-religious country like India: AIMPLB. Retrieved from Indian Express: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/uniform-civil-code-not-suitable-for-multi-religious-country-like-india-aimplb-7634374/
- Sarda, K. (2023, July 28). Uniform Civil Code: Law Commission says it received over 75 lakh responses from the public. Retrieved from India Today: https://www.indiatoday.in/law/story/uniform-civil-code-law-commission-received-over-75-lakh-public-feedback-2413073-2023-07-28