Uniform civil code is a much talked about law that needs to replace the personal laws which govern the rights of people in terms of customs and rules of each religious community, covering personal issues like marriage, adoption, divorce, inheritance and maintenance. These personal laws or civil codes pertaining to personal issues differ from community to community and hence the laws of the Hindu community in India are different from those of the Muslim, Parsi, Christian and other religious communities.
Demand for uniform civil code
In the Constitution of India, in Article 44, it has been stated, “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” Article 44 is one of the Directive Principles of State policy, which provide guidelines for the Central and State Governments to help them in creating and implementing laws and policies. However, as per Article 37, these Directive Principles are not to be enforced by law but are guidelines in the governance of the country. The demand for a uniform civil code means all personal laws related to different religious communities should be scrapped and a set of uniform laws or a secular laws will be made that will be applicable for each and every Indian irrespective of their religious community.
Why is there no uniform civil code yet
If a uniform civil code is made, a single set of laws will apply to all the citizens irrespective of one’s religion, especially with regard to marriage, divorce, adoption, property, maintenance and inheritance, etc. The minorities feel that this will be tantamount to interference in their personal matters. Successive Central Governments had never made an attempt to touch this sensitive issue. Former Law Minister M Veerappa Moily in 2011 had clearly said that his Government (the erstwhile Congress Government) will not touch the issue of uniform civil code as it would involve changes in the personal laws of all the people, especially the minority communities.
It was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who had first put forward the need for a uniform law during his tenure but he was only successful in including it in the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution. The Hindu Code Bill in the 1950s was brought forward to bring uniformity with regard to customs, practices and legal aspects of personal matters. But, this also faced severe protests and had to be scraped in 1956.
Shah Bano case
In 1985, the need for a uniform civil code again came into focus in the context of the Shah Bano case. A 65-year old Muslim woman, Shah Bano, demanded alimony from her husband after she was divorced by him by uttering the word “talaq” three times as per the Muslim personal law. Bano was entitled to just three months’ maintenance under the Muslim law. The matter also reached the Supreme Court which favoured a uniform code. However, there were protests by the Muslim community. The Shah Bano case became a nationwide controversial political issue. And it still remains as such because the Muslim community and other minorities are not in favour of a uniform law which they feel will be a threat to their culture.
BJP Government and the uniform civil code
However, according to the present BJP Government, same laws must apply to one and all. The present Government during electioneering in April 2014 had clearly mentioned the need for a uniform civil code in its manifesto, which stated that gender equality and protection of the rights of women in India are possible only when the country adopts a uniform civil code and hence there is the need to draft such a one which will incorporate the best traditions and blend them with the modern times.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that his Government will make efforts to formulate a uniform civil code, but that does not mean that all the citizens will come under the Hindu code. He also stated that there are several provisions in the Hindu code which are not necessary and need reforms. It is unnecessary to keep the 18th century laws in the 21st century.
Goa is the only State to have implemented the Directive Principle on uniform civil code and the State today has Goa Civil Code or the Goa Family Law, that governs all the people of Goa, irrespective of the religion or the community to which they belong.
Why do we need a uniform civil code in India?
Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said recently, when he was holding the Law portfolio, that this issue of uniform civil code requires consultation of various stakeholders. Whether a uniform code will actually be implemented or not, only time will tell. But, a uniform code is necessary for the following reasons:
- A secular country: India can be a secular country in the true sense of the word only when all communities belonging to various religions like Hindu, Islam, Christianity etc. follow a single set of laws, thereby uniting diverse sections of people.
- Uniting and integrating country: India can be a united country only if same laws related to inheritance, marriage, family, land etc. are applicable to all citizens, irrespective of the caste, creed, communities they belong to. This way all Indians will be treated equally.
- Protecting women’s rights: The age-old religious customs and personal laws of our country are usually in favour of men, especially the Muslim men. A uniform civil code will help in improving the conditions of women in India. It will help in bringing changes in the age-old traditions that have no relevance in today’s modern society, where women should be given equal rights and should be treated fairly.
- All developed countries have a uniform civil code: This is sign of a progressive society. Then why should India lag behind? A country having a uniform civil code means it has moved away from caste and religious politics. While we feel proud of our economic growth, we cannot say the same about our social growth. A uniform civil code in India will go a long way in attaining the constitutional goals.
- Vote bank politics: Implementing a uniform code will definitely reduce the role of vote banks in electoral politics. Politicians of this country exploit such tools to get the maximum number of votes of the minorities.
Last but not the least, a uniform civil code in India will ensure not division on the basis of religion but unity by creating a feeling of nationality.