India is a very diverse nation having several different cultures, traditions and religions. This diverse nature of India makes it a vibrant and varied country, where it reconciles different religious and cultural views to form one unified nation. However, this also necessitates the need for personal laws that govern each religion and allow their followers to live according to certain religion-specific laws and regulations. For example, Hindus have the Hindu Marriage Act (1955), Muslims have the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act (1937), Christians have the Indian Christian Marriage Act (1871), etc. The personal laws are aimed at giving each religion a fair opportunity at following their own customs and traditions. However, many instances in Indian history are evidence to the fact that distributing justice on the basis of religion leads to a multitude of communal issues. Moreover, numerous personal laws have been found to be discriminatory in nature and thereby in derogation of the Fundamental Rights as given in the Indian Constitution. Many a times, these personal laws are regressive in nature and represent ancient societal views that show no congruence to the current, progressive Indian society. It is in view of this that the framers of the Indian constitution, and many other prominent figures during the period of drafting, made efforts to implement a ‘Uniform Civil Code’ in the interest of national consolidation and communal harmony.
The Uniform Civil Code
The Uniform Civil Code refers to a single set of rules or a singular code of law that is applicable to all the citizens of India, regardless of their religious affiliations or which community they belong to. Such a code is the hallmark of a contemporary, progressive nation that has ascended the need for segregation based on religion, caste, race, etc. Article 44 of the Indian Constitution states that a ‘Uniform Civil Code’ is to be implemented for the citizens of India. The Article reads: “The State shall endeavour to provide for its citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” Therefore, the idea of a uniform civil code is enshrined in the Indian constitution and stands as a something that the country should strive for. However, it is included as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, and not as a Fundamental Right or constitutional guarantee. Hence, despite being mentioned in the constitution, there have been no significant steps taken by India to realise such a code.
Goa is the only state in India to have a fully functioning uniform civil code called the Portuguese Civil Code (1867). This code replaces the personal laws based on religion in Goa, and introduces a common law for all its residents regardless of their religion, caste, gender, etc. For example, according to the code, a Muslim man whose marriage is registered in the State of Goa cannot practice polygamy. Although polygamy is a part and parcel of the Muslim personal law, it is nullified in the State of Goa due to the presence of a UCC. Furthermore, a married couple share equal property and divide their assets equally, and succession rights for men and women are similar in Goa. Thus, Goa acts as a contemporary example as to how a uniform civil code works, and what it involves.
Evaluation of the Uniform Civil Code
It can be said that the uniform civil code is a very polarising concept, and that it can bring about both benefits and adversities. It is important to understand these before a solid decision about it can be made. In case it seems like the benefits outweigh the adversities, then it should be implemented, and vice-versa. These can be discussed as:
- The application of a uniform code will allow for a much more coherent and efficient system of administration, mitigating a lot of the confusion and conflict created due to the existence of numerous personal laws.
- A uniform civil code is the hallmark of a secular democracy like India. As mentioned in the Preamble, India is a secular country and does not identify any particular state religion. It is acceptive of all faiths, and gives the freedom to practice and preach any religion its citizens deem suitable for themselves.
- A common feature seen among most personal laws is discrimination towards women. This is again a reflection of ancient and obsolete beliefs that have no place in modern society. The uniform civil code, however, is devoid of any such discrimination and promotes equal treatment of both genders.
- Possibly the most important pro is that the implementation of a uniform civil code will infuse the Indian legal system to make it one well-oiled machine. As of right now, the segregation of different personal laws implies different practices in different religions.
- Although aiming for communal harmony, the uniform civil code may cause some divisiveness in the Indian society. Communities such Hindus and Muslims have deep-rooted hate against each other, and neither one will be pleased to follow the same code as the other. Hence, the UCC may cause some communal disharmony.
- It will be a very lengthy and cumbersome process to come up with a uniform civil code that is equitable and non-discriminatory in nature. Realistically, it will take numerous years and make use of many resources, which might not be the best idea considering the many issues India has to focus on in the current times.
- Most importantly, as mentioned before, people in India have deep emotional ties to their religions. The introduction of such a code that trumps their personal laws is not advisable and can lead to antipathy from the citizens of India.
Ultimately, the debate around the uniform civil code does have valid arguments both for and against it. It boils down to whether it is worth sacrificing some diversity for a stable law and order situation in India. I believe that the UCC could be the need of the hour, and could help in building the egalitarian society India is striving for. India’s long history of communal disputes and discrimination can come to an end, or at least be reduced exponentially, and there can be national integration and unity. However, such a uniform code cannot be suddenly implemented with the hope that it will rectify issues. People should be educated and made aware about it, and a gradual approach should be administered in introducing the UCC. This will allow it to be effective and accepted in society. Furthermore, each community’s interests should be taken into consideration. In this way, the secular nature of India will be preserved and it will allow for India to progress and grow.
Categories: Culture and History, Education, Learning