The case for a Uniform Civil Code

Source: The post is based on the article “The case for a Uniform Civil Code” published in “The Indian Express” on 1st July 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Significant provisions of Indian Constitution, GS 1 – Indian Society

News: The constitutional provision for a uniform civil code (UCC) in India is a complex and sensitive matter that requires careful consideration when discussing its aims, objectives, and implementation. Unfortunately, it is often misunderstood and misrepresented, leading to widespread misconceptions.

What does the Constitutional say?

Article 44 under Part IV emphasizes the importance of a uniform, not common, civil code and directs the State to “endeavour to secure” it.

When read with Article 37, the makers of the Constitution wanted uniformity to be gradually achieved through suitable amendments of existing laws and enactment of new laws.

What progress has been made in this regard?

Many new laws of general application have been enacted over the years — like the Special Marriage Act 1954, Dowry Prohibition Act 1961, Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act 2006 etc.

These laws override conflicting provisions in personal laws and contribute to the goal of uniformity in family laws.

Amendments have also been made to various personal laws along similar lines.

Is UCC incompatible with Muslim law?

There is a misperception that UCC is a measure to abolish Muslim law, which is commonly viewed as outdated and discriminatory against women.

In its authentic version, Islamic law is not entirely incompatible with the modern society. Justice Krishna Iyer had once said that Islamic law recognised the “sanctity of family life”. The divorce law of Islam is based on the concept of irretrievable breakdown of marriage.

Can the four Hindu law Acts of 1955-56 and the Special Marriage Act of 1954 become model for UCC?

The Hindu law Acts of 1955-56 initially contained provisions conflicting with constitutional ideals of religious equality and gender justice. While recent amendments have improved the situation, there is still room for further progress.

The Hindu Succession Act still differentiates the course of inheritance based on the gender of the deceased owner of a property. Additionally, under the adoption law, a man requires his wife’s consent for adopting a child, and even for giving their child for adoption to someone else, but only if the wife belongs to the same faith.

After an amendment in 1976, the Special Marriage Act of 1954 allowed succession to the properties of parties to civil marriages to be governed by the Hindu Succession Act instead of the Indian Succession Act if both parties to such a marriage are Hindu. This amendment did not apply to other communities, resulting in a lack of uniformity.

The Special Marriage Act and the four Hindu law Acts are not applicable in certain regions. In these areas, local laws of foreign origin are protected by parliamentary legislation or customary laws are safeguarded by the Constitution. This situation contradicts the objective of Article 44, which aims for uniformity throughout the territory of India.

What should be done?

A representative group of acclaimed social reformers and legal academics should produce a draft that is free of religious discrimination and gender inequality. It must be extended to all citizens in all parts of the country.

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