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Should India have a Uniform Civil Code?

New Delhi: Mogi government has been aggressive in implementing the promises made in BJP’s manifestoes, especially those of polarising ones- like- the ban on Triple Talaq, Article 370 abrogation, construction of Ram temple and Uniform Civil Code (UCC).

BJP returned to power in 2019 with a landslide victory riding on the above issues. Now, the Narendra Modi-led government has decided to push Uniform Civil Code which is extremely controversial as India is a highly socially and culturally adverse country. But, the million-dollar question is should India have a Uniform Civil Code? Opinion on this is divided. Pro-government groups and right-wingers support it, while some people say it is not good for a secular and highly diverse country. I, too, feel it is unwarranted in a country like India as it is not the homeland of one particular community. Let’s examine it.

What Is UCC & Why Is So Much Noise On It?

Uniform Civil Code is a proposal to formulate a uniform law for all citizens which will apply to all citizens equally regardless of their religion, sex, gender and sexual orientation. Several communities are governed by their religious scriptures, which the Constitution of India also recognizes. UCC mainly covers marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance. Since UCC appears to stand contrary to Article 25-28 of the Indian constitution, guarantees religious freedom to Indian citizens and allows religious groups to maintain their affairs, several social groups and political parties are against the idea of bringing UCC. Recently, several states refused to be governed by the uniform Motor Vehicles Act, 2019. Article 12 in the Constitution Of India 1949 makes India a union of states which means India follows a federal system in which the Centre and states have separate and shared rights.

What’s Current Status?

BJP-ruled states like Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka have intended to implement the UCC in their territory. But it is still an answered question of whether a state can form such a law. It’s subject to legal scrutiny.

How Viable UCC Is Politically

UCC certainly suits right-wingers. BJP is most vocal on this. However, as of now, no other BJP allies have shown their cards on this. Congress and other Opposition parties strongly oppose the law. Since BJP has been gaining electoral victories by fanning such controversial issues, it will surely be raised in upcoming elections in Karnataka and General Elections 2024.

Recent election results show that Congress, the Samajwadi Party and others that used to be vocal on the rights of minorities have faced defeat, so it is unlikely they will vigorously fight UCC if BJP tries to bring it in future. Congress understands the political atmosphere is not such that it should speak against UCC. Even Congress reluctantly fought against the implementation of The Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) and The National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam. Home Minister Amit Shah in West Bengal recently announced that the Modi government would implement NRC across the county. Surprisingly, no counter comes from the Opposition, which shows politics in India is rapidly changing.
Even tomorrow, the government brings UCC; I don’t think Congress and other parties that advocate secularism will fight with full spirit. Some people from non-political quarters (civil society) will raise their voices.
It’s unfortunate. Modi enjoys unprecedented popularity among mass because of his pro-development image, but such controversial steps contradict Modi’s image.

What Are The Legal Hurdle?

Experts say making a law to implement UCC would not be as easy as it sounds. There are several legal and political hurdles. UCC may adversely hit the balance between the protection of fundamental rights and the right of religious practices of individuals enshrined in the ‘Right to Freedom of Religion (Article 25-28) and Cultural and Educational Rights (Article 29-30) of the Constitution of India. Several states have different laws to protect their own culture and traditions. For instance, in Assam, under IJSAR, 6(3), 2019; 16-22, tribal communities enjoy special rights in marriage.
Similarly, other northeastern and hilly states also have their laws on the marriage system. The Centre will have to launch an extensive consultation campaign with these states before bringing such a law. The Muslim community has the biggest objection as Islam followers enjoy Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. Muslim Personal Law governs Muslim traditions and marriages. UCC contradicts several provisions of the Sharia (Muslim religious laws). Other communities- Sikh, Christian, Jain and others may also have objections as they enjoy special rights derived from Articles 29 and 30 that guarantee certain rights to the minorities.

What Is Law Commission’s Stand?

In a 185-page consultation paper report on August 31, 2018, the Law Commission of India stated that a Uniform Civil Code is “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage”, asserting secularism cannot contradict plurality prevalent in the country.

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