The Uniform Civil Code or UCC is a very controversial topic for most Indians, due to many misconceptions propagated by Muslim leaders. In 2014, when the BJP won a landslide victory and Modi took the oath as Prime Minister, it had mentioned the UCC as a ‘priority’ for its government in their official manifesto.
In 2019 as well, the BJP had promised to bring a Uniform Civil Code to the country in its manifesto Sankalp Patra. Infact, in 2019 when the BJP was bringing a storm of legislative reforms like the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 and abrogation of Article 370 from the Indian Constitution, a Uniform Civil Code bill was speculated to be next in queue. This was however interrupted due to ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
What is Uniform Civil Code?
A Uniform Civil Code refers to a common code of conduct for all Indian citizens irrespective of religion. The bill, when introduced, will aim to supersede all existing personal law boards based on religion. In other words, it aims to establish ‘One Country One Law’ in the nation.
What are the existing personal laws applicable in the country?
Presently, there are 4 different personal laws applicable to 4 different religions.
- Hindus (Including Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains)– coded under Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, and Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act
- Christians (all sects included)- coded under Indian Christian Marriages Act and the Indian Divorce Act
- Muslims (Shia, Sunni and Sufi included)- based on Sharia law, including Shariat Application Act and Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act
- Zoroastrian/Parsi- coded under Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act
Each of these religions are governed by separate laws or codes for various family matters, such as marriage and divorce.
What matters do these religious laws focus on?
All these religious laws focus on family matters such as divorce and marriage, thus acquiring the name “personal laws”. They are valid for the following family matters:
- Marriage and divorce
- Custody and Guardianship
- Adoption and Maintenance
- Succession and Inheritance
While Hindu, Christian and Parsi personal laws are coded under Marriage, Divorce and Succession acts, Muslim personal laws are based on the religious text ‘Shariat’. Separate courts are established for Muslim personal matters.
What’s the legal need for a Uniform Civil Code?
The Article 14 of the Indian Constitution states that all citizens should be equal before the law, irrespective of caste, gender or religion.
“The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.”
Further, the Indira Gandhi-led government in 1976 had introduced the word ‘secular’ in the preamble of the Indian constitution. Secularism can be defined as the equal treatment of all religions by the state, and separation of religion from the state.
In other words, no secular country should have laws based on religion, and there should be a clear separation between the state and any religion. Different laws based on religion contradict these statements, often causing confusion when new laws are introduced on matters pertaining to family life.
Despite Congress themselves introducing the word ‘secular’ in the preamble, they have opposed the concept of a Uniform Civil Code. The meaning of the word ‘secular’ has routinely been changed in the dictionaries of Congress politicians, with it varying from religious tolerance to changing the real history of the country.