Uniform Civil Code: The Much Debated Legislation
India as a country distinguishes itself from other countries owing to the
myriad of religions that co-exist in it. India's multi-religious nature stems
from its history, which has seen rulers of various religions and domains come to
rule the country, from the Mughals to the British.
Multiple laws have been developed throughout the years to manage the personal
affairs of individuals of various religions, and they have served their purpose,
but with the passage of time, the necessity for a Uniform Civil Code ("UCC") has
This piece aims to look at the background of the concept of a UCC and the
various instances in the present times where the need for a UCC has been felt.
The piece also aims to highlight some of the hurdles which are present in the
way of imposition of a UCC in India.
The framers of the Constitution envisioned a consistent set of family
regulations that would apply to all citizens. However, the notion was shelved,
and it was left to future generations to explore and enact concrete legislation.
Thus, India still runs on the idea of legal pluralism which grants all religions
the equal right to be governed by their own personal laws, some of them being
codified like the Hindu personal laws and some not like the Muslim laws, as
discussed in subsequent paragraphs, in matters relating to marriage and divorce
to name a few.
A UCC refers to a single legislation which would govern all personal matters
such as divorce, marriage, adoption, inheritance and custody of all individuals
irrespective of their religion and are. It aims to eradicate the fragmented laws
which currently govern interpersonal relationships.
The idea of UCC has been derived from Article 44 of the Constitution, which
forms a directive principle of state policy according to which:
The State shall endeavour to secure for all citizens a Uniform Civil Code
throughout the territory of India.
This means that while the concept of a UCC has been enshrined in the
Constitution as a goal toward which tangible steps should be undertaken, it is
neither a fundamental right nor a provision that the Constitution guarantees.
The various laws that are present, dealing with personal matters largely focus
on marriage, divorce, custody, guardianship, etc and are different from public
laws. The most prominent example of such laws is the Hindu personal law which is
codified in four bills. They are the Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act,
Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, and Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act.
The term 'Hindu' also includes Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists for the purpose of
"...The reference Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons
professing Sikh, Jain or Buddhist religion and the reference to Hindu religious
institutions shall be construed accordingly."
Muslim personal law is not codified per se, and is based on muslim religious
texts, however certain aspects of the texts are recognised in India expressly
under certain specialised legislations like the Shariat Application Act and
Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act.The Indian Christian Marriages Act and the
Indian Divorce Act administer Christian marriages and divorces, whereas the
Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act governs Zoroastrians.
At the same time, there are laws that are more "secular" in nature, ignoring
religion entirely, such as the Special Marriage Act, which permits interfaith
marriages, and the Guardians and Wards Act, which specifies the rights and
responsibilities of guardians. Furthermore, to protect distinct regional
identities, the Constitution makes certain exceptions for the states of Assam,
Nagaland, Mizoram, Andhra Pradesh and Goa with respect to family law.
Goa at present, is the only state in India with a UCC.The Portuguese Civil Code
of 1867, which continues to be implemented after India annexed the territory in
1961, applies to all Goans, irrespective of their religious or ethnic community.
However, the Portuguese Civil Code, 1867 is not a completely uniform one. It
makes certain provisions on religious basis. The most notable example is Hindu
men being allowed to practice bigamy if the wife fails to deliver a child by the
age of 25, or a male child by the age of 30.
UCC in the present times:The issue of uniform civil code has continued to gain traction over the years
with embedded seeds of unending quarrels, continuing storms and dialectics of
history. The voices in support of this particular legislation have only grown
firmer with the Supreme Court ("SC") outlawing Triple Talaq. Over the years, the
courts have remarked on the topic, with some previous rulings serving as a
The demand for UCC came on the forefront in the landmark case of Shah Bano v.
Union of India in 1985. Shah Bano moved to SC seeking maintenance after her
husband divorced her after 40 years of marriage by giving triple talaq and
denied her regular maintenance.
The SC bench, in a verdict in favor of Bano, observed:
"There is no evidence of any official activity for framing a common civil code
for the country. A common Civil Code will help the cause of national integration
by removing disparate loyalties to laws which have conflicting ideologies."
In the 1995 Sarla Mudgal Case, Justice Kuldip Singh reiterated the need
for Parliament to frame a UCC, which would help the cause of national
integration by removing ideological contradictions. The same suggestion reflects
in the verdicts of other landmark cases such as Jordan Diengdeh vs. SS Chopra
and John Vallamattom vs. Union of India.
Yet, it has been strongly opposed by various political parties and most
importantly the Muslims. According to them, it clashes with the right bestowed
on all citizens by Article 25of the Constitution which grants the freedom of
religion to all. They believe that they have the most to lose in case a UCC is
implemented since most of their practices may not make the cut.The UCC could
also become a tool to suppress and erode the rights of other minorities and
Nevertheless, a UCC could, in theory, provide equal status to all citizens
irrespective of the communities they belong to. Personal laws are widely
divergent and lack consistency in all matters which also clashes with the most
important right, i.e., the right to equality enshrined under Article 14 in the
Constitution. These laws are also more patriarchal in nature and thus, mostly
suppress women rights and treat them inferiorly. They disprivilege women. A UCC
would promote gender equality and bring about a much needed consistency ushering
in a new set of possibilities for all.
The present conditions prevailing in India currently make introduction of UCC a
herculean task for the government. There is still an underlying current in the
Muslims because of the Triple Talaq judgment, Ram Mandir/ Babri Masjid judgment
and introduction of Citizenship Amendment Act. Also, there is a general lack of
confidence in the present government which would make the implementation of such
an important legislation all the more difficult. So, for the time being, the
fate of this much-needed but hotly debated law hangs in the balance, with no
indication of which way the wind will blow in the future.
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