February 27, 2024

The Imperative Need for a Uniform Civil Code

The Uniform Civil Code applies civil law to different religions and regions to unify the legal system.
Keywords: UCC, Constitution, Religion, Law, Legal, Political, Implementation, Gender, Justice, Equality
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Concerning the incorporation of a uniform civil code into the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly engaged in a heated discussion, but failed to reach any conclusion. After the Supreme Court handed down its decision in the Shah Bano Case, the conflict between various socio-religious and political groups regarding UCC reached its acme. However, after deciding several cases that followed a similar outline, the Court has refrained from directly engaging with the issue by referring to it as a matter which falls within the purview of the legislature. This is because the Court believes that the issue is better suited for legislative action. The debate about the UCC has captured the attention of the public in the nation and recent events have helped it gain traction, such as when the Law Commission requested feedback from citizens on how they feel about the implementation of the proposal. 

It is interesting to follow the path that the discussion on UCC has taken because it passes through three phases that are founded on different normative concerns. These phases are respectively called national consolidation, equality before the law and gender justice. On the other hand, if one takes a closer look, it would appear that there have only been two concerns, namely, the consolidation of the nation and gender justice. It is on the basis of these latter two concerns that the third concern, which is the promotion of equality of laws, is advanced. When we conduct research into the reasons, causes, and purposes of the UCC, we come across a number of analyses in which various commentators list a variety of contributing factors. The main purposes are to achieve national unity and integrity, equality and gender justice, real secularism in India, and clarity, simplicity, and intelligibility in personal laws. 

Seventy-five years after independence, India still follows many British laws and systems that made colonial rule easier. They allowed religious communities to be governed by their own customs/social practices in marriage, divorce, maintenance, property inheritance, succession, and adoption, which they called “laws” or “personal laws.” Unfortunately, we in India continue to adhere to laws that, for the most part, have no place in today’s rapidly evolving technologically advanced society. Various colonial motives for dismantling Indian society are obvious, and so is the fact that they succeeded. Yet, a standardized set of laws that everyone must follow is necessary. The country should have standardized its laws soon after it gained independence. Therefore, maintaining national unity, integrity, and diversity requires a stable legal framework that everyone can rely on. Despite the fact that we live in a multicultural society, we must all work harder to preserve the integrity of our country. Embracing our diversities in this way can strengthen rather than dilute our national identity.

Eventually, the idea of the Uniform Civil Code owes its origin to the concept of uniform national identity. And this concept is also favoured by what K. M. Munshi in the Constituent Assembly observed: “there are many factors- and important factors- which still offer serious dangers to our national consolidation, and it is very necessary that the whole of our life, so far as it is restricted to secular spheres, must be unified in such a way that as early as possible, we may be able to say, Well, we are not merely a nation because we say so, but also in effect, by the way we live, by our personal law, we are a strong and consolidated nation”.

The Uniform Civil Code applies civil law to different religions and regions to unify the legal system. This eliminates religious and ethnic personal laws. A “Uniform Civil Code” applies civil laws to everyone, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, etc. The Supreme Court’s personal laws decision in the Shah Bano case illustrated the concerns in religious communities and in parliament that a Uniform Civil Code would threaten the rights and the integrity of minority religious communities’. In this case, the Supreme Court confirmed that Section 125 of the CrPc grants privilege regardless of the parties’ personal law. The court noted that a uniform civil code will help national integration by eliminating desperate loyalty to conflicting laws. No community would make gratuitous concessions on this matter. The state can enact a Uniform Civil Code.

A uniform law code ensures gender equality and liberty for all religious communities’ personal laws. The Uniform Civil Code should balance Fundamental Rights with the prerogatives of distinct religions. In a separate judgment, Justice Gajendragadkar agreed with Hon’ble Justice Chagla that the legislative classification of Hindus and Muslims was reasonable and did not violate Article 14. “This Article 44 says that the state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout India,” he said. This Article implies that Hindus and Mohammedans have different personal law codes and allows them to continue until the state succeeds in securing a uniform civil code for all citizens. In Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India, the Supreme Court ordered Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to reconsider Article 44, which requires a Uniform Civil Code for the protection of the oppressed and encourages national unity and integrity.

As a result, it is the unavoidable responsibility of each and every component of the governance system to work toward the establishment of a single common code. A single law that applies to all of citizens will bring social justice to all of sections of society. Even the preamble to the Constitution makes it abundantly clear that there shall be social justice (political, economic, and social), which we shall only be able to achieve when all citizens are subject to the same law. Incorporating this provision into the Constitution was done with the intention of creating a homogenous society and protecting it from forces that could lead to its disintegration, such as religion, caste, language et al. Therefore, the implementation of a uniform civil code will, on the one hand, assist in maintaining the integrity of the nation, and, on the other hand, assist in establishing the rule of law, both of which are extremely important in a country as culturally and linguistically diverse as India. Thus, the provision applies to the entire nation, and there is no reason to be indifferent to the Constitution’s noble goal of a uniform civil code.

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Prashant Barthwal

Prashant Barthwal is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Delhi.

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