Allahabad High Court’s views on Uniform Civil Code
Polity & Governance
1st Dec, 2021
Responding to as many as 17 petitions related to interfaith marriages, the Allahabad High Court has asked the Central government to consider setting up a panel for implementing the mandate of Article 44, which says that the "state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) throughout the territory of India".
- The origin of the UCC dates back to colonial India.
- During that period, the British government submitted its report in 1835 stressing the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, and contracts.
- It specifically recommending that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims be kept outside such codification.
- Increase in legislations dealing with personal issues in the far end of the British rule forced the government to form the B N Rau Committee to codify Hindu law in 1941.
- The task of the Hindu Law Committee was to examine the question of the necessity of common Hindu laws.
- The committee, in accordance with scriptures, recommended a codified Hindu law, which would give equal rights to women.
- The 1937 Act was reviewed and the committee recommended a civil code of marriage and succession for Hindus.
What is UCC?
- The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) calls for the formulation of one law for India, which would be applicable to all religious communities in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption.
- The code comes under Article 44 of the Constitution, which lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India.
Why Article 44 is significant?
- The objective of Article 44 of the Directive Principles in the Indian Constitution was to address the discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise diverse cultural groups across the country.
- B R Ambedkar, while formulating the Constitution had said that a UCC is desirable but for the moment it should remain voluntary, and thus the Article 35 of the draft Constitution was added as a part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy in part IV of the Constitution of India as Article 44.
- It was incorporated in the Constitution as an aspect that would be fulfilled when the nation would be ready to accept it and the social acceptance to the UCC could be made.
Ambedkar in his speech in the Constituent Assembly had said, "No one need be apprehensive that if the State has the power, the State will immediately proceed to execute…that power in a manner may be found to be objectionable by the Muslims or by the Christians or by any other community. I think it would be a mad government if it did so."
Why civil laws and criminal laws are not uniform?
- While the criminal laws in India are uniform and applicable equally on all, no matter what their religious beliefs are, the civil laws are influenced by faith.
- Swayed by religious texts, the personal laws which come into effect in civil cases have always been implemented according to constitutional norms.
- Personal laws are applied to a certain group of people based on their religion, caste, faith, and belief made after due consideration of customs and religious texts.
- The personal laws of Hindus and Muslims find their source and authority in their religious ancient texts.
- In Hinduism, personal laws are applicable to legal issues related to inheritance, succession, marriage, adoption, co-parenting, obligations of sons to pay their father’s debts, the partition of family property, maintenance, guardianship, and charitable donations.
- In Islam, personal laws apply to matters relating to inheritance, wills, succession, legacies, marriage, wakfs, dowry, guardianship, divorce, gifts, and pre-emption taking roots from Quran.
Observations made by Allahabad HC on UCC
The Allahabad High Court has rightly reminded the Government about Article 44 of the Indian Constitution which is a Directive Principle of Policy, which was meant to be parallel to a fundamental right to be implemented in due course. It made the following observations on the issue:
- The UCC is necessity and mandatorily required today.
- It cannot be made 'purely voluntary' as was observed by B.R. Ambedkar 75 years back, in view of the apprehension and fear expressed by the members of the minority community.
- It is the need of the hour that the Parliament comes up with a "single family code" to protect interfaith couples from being "hounded as criminals".
How UCC can help?
- Protection and unity: The UCC aims to provide protection to vulnerable sections including women and religious minorities, while also promoting nationalistic fervour through unity.
- Simplified laws: When enacted the code will work to simplify laws that are segregated at present on the basis of religious beliefs like the Hindu code bill, Shariat law, and others.
- Easy adoption for all: The code will simplify the complex laws around marriage ceremonies, inheritance, succession, adoptions making them one for all.
- Application irrespective of faith: The same civil law will then be applicable to all citizens irrespective of their faith.
- End of conflict: It will avoid conflicts in various personal laws in relation to marriage and divorce.
Other countries with ‘One Country, One Law’ formula
- Many other countries including France, United Kingdom (UK), United States (US), Australia, Germany, etc. already have similar laws in place which ensures the principle of one country, one law.
Is Indian society ‘liberal’ enough to adopt UCC?
- A set of people argue that reforms with reference to ‘personal law’ must come from within the community and should not be imposed by the legislature.
- Observing the past and prevailing attitude of the community leaderships, this is very unlikely to happen.
- The influential stakeholders enjoying the inadequate societal setup actually want to drag the subjects on the backward track.
- The outrage by stakeholders in the aftermath of the Shah Bano (1985) and Triple talaq verdict proves this.
Adoption of UCC will not only codify the un-codified laws, it will also eradicate unreasonable discriminatory provisions regarding adoption, succession, inheritance, guardianship, marriage, divorce and maintenance in Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Parsi laws.
Although India has historically and culturally imbibed the feature of tolerating and accommodating diversity, but a diversity that leads to discrimination (especially of women) is of no glory. Thus, required steps in the right direction must be taken.