Why in News?
The Law Commission of India has said that a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”. In this regard, enacting justified laws is more desirable than changing personal laws for bringing in ‘uniformity’.
What is the Uniform Civil Code?
The UCC in India aims at replacing the personal laws based on the customs and scriptures of each religious community with a common code or law governing every citizen.
Why India needs Uniform Civil Code? (Pros)
- Nature of India– A secular republic like India needs a common law for all citizens rather than differentiated rules based on religious practices.
- Gender Parity – The rights of women are generally restricted under religious law, be it Hindu or Muslim. Triple talaq, priority given to men in terms of succession and inheritance are some examples.
- Uphold rights – Many practices governed by religious tradition are contrary to the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Indian constitution.
- Judicial orders – Courts have also opined that the government should move towards a Uniform Civil Code. For example – the Shah Bano case.
- Constitutional mandate – The constitution has a provision for Uniform Civil Code in Article 44 as a Directive Principle of State Policy (DPSP) which mentions that “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”. But DPSP cannot be enforced by the court. However, the legislature can enforce UCC by enacting a law.
- National Integration – UCC would make the dream of “One Nation, One Law” come true. India believes in one nation and hence no community shall claim separate religious laws. In this way, it’ll promote national integration.
- Young people’ aspirations – 55% of India’s population comprised of people below 25% years of age. Their social attitudes and aspirations are based on universal principles of humanity, equality, and modernity. In order to realize their full potential for nation building, their attitudes and aspirations should be respected.
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Why is it not feasible in India? (Cons)
- Practical difficulties – India is the country with diversity in religion, ethnicity, castes etc. Hence it is practically not feasible to come up with uniform rules for personal issues like marriage due to the cultural diversity. It is also difficult to convince every community to replace their age-old traditions with a new law.
- Violation of religious freedom – UCC is considered by religious minorities as an encroachment on their rights to religious freedom. They fear that their traditional religious practices will be replaced by the rules and diktats of majority religious communities.
- The state should not interfere in personal matters – The constitution provides for the right to freedom of religion of one’s choice. UCC would violate that right.
- Sensitive and difficult task – UCC in its true spirit must be created by borrowing from various personal laws, making gradual changes in each, issuing judicial pronouncements, assuring gender equality and adopting expansive interpretations on marriage, maintenance, adoption, and succession. These are daunting tasks on human resource wise. Moreover, the government should be sensitive and unbiased at each stage while dealing with the majority and minority communities. Otherwise, it might lead to communal violence.
- Time is not suitable yet – There are already controversies over beef ban, saffronization of school and college curriculum, love jihad etc. At this time, the introduction of UCC would only make things worse as it would make Muslims more insecure and vulnerable to get attracted towards fundamentalist and extremist ideologies.
Law Commission’s recommendations
- The commission stresses on initiatives to reconcile the country’s diversity with universal arguments on human rights.
- It recommended codification of all personal laws
- So that the prejudices and stereotypes in all religion can be brought to light.
- They can eventually be tested against the anvil of the fundamental rights in the constitution.
- It could help arrive at certain universal principles.
- These may facilitate prioritizing equality instead of the imposition of UCC.
- Uniform Civil Code would only discourage many from using the law altogether. This is especially true considering the fact that matters related to marriage and divorce can be settled extra-judicially as well. Thus the commission suggested certain amendments in the personal laws related to marriage and divorce.
- Fixing the marriageable age of boys and girls at 18 years so that they can marry as equals.
- Making adultery a ground for divorce for men and women.
- Simplifying the divorce procedure.
- It suggested making polygamy a criminal offense and applying it to all communities.
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What is the way forward?
- UCC can only emerge through an evolutionary process. Hence major sensitization efforts are required to reform current personal law reforms which should be first initiated by the communities themselves.
- Existing institutions should be modernized, democratized and strengthened for this change.
- Serious efforts towards women empowerment have to be taken for all women of all religions.
- The plural democracy is an identity of modern India. Hence initiatives should be concentrated on bringing harmony in plurality, rather than blanket uniformity for flourishing Indian democracy.
- “A secular republic like India needs a common law for all citizens rather than differentiated rules based on religious practices”. Comment.