Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Uniform Civil Code Unraveled


Recently, there has been a debate on whether Indians want Uniform Civil Code in the society. The idea is to bring people following multiple religions under one law that allows their peaceful coexistence. In the beginning of the twentieth century, a group of women who wanted to bring to an end their discrimination based on religion had put forward this as a proposal.  Right from the forwarding of the proposal, the minority communities have been vehemently opposing the move on various grounds. This is especially true in the case of Muslim community, which is dead against its implementation in the country. If we look at other countries, they have implemented this common civil code to bring the level playing ground for their citizens. The people of these countries have never voiced their concerns on its implementation.

civil code

What is Uniform Civil Code?

In reality, the Uniform Civil Code is a set of proposals that aim at replacing the personal laws based on the religious teachings with common set of laws that govern every citizen, irrespective of his religious affiliation. These teachings come from the scriptures and customs that each religious community in India follow. The authorities proposed new set of laws to cover marriage, inheritance, divorce, adoption and maintenance. Each religious order has its own set of laws that work well with that community. Hence, the historians called the earlier laws as personal laws. The founders of our constitution have even made provision in it so that the future citizens of the country are bound by law to follow the rules specified in the Uniform Civil Code. For instance, the article 44 of the Directive Principles in India set its implementation as the duty of the state.


What is Its Status?

It is partly implemented in India. The Special Marriage Act of 1954 allows any Indian citizen to have a civil marriage outside the realm of the personal law coined by any religion. Following the cue, the state of Goa has implemented a Common Family Law in the state. In fact, it is the only Indian state to have a Uniform Civil Code. Broadly, Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) CPI-M have come forward to support it. On the other hand, the national party Indian National Congress (INC) and Muslim scholars All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) have decided to fight against its implementation.


Brief History

Historically, the Personal Laws were first framed by British Authorities mainly for Hindu and Muslim citizens. However, they feared opposition from the subjects. Hence, they did not introduce it. Later, a group of women in the 20th century raked up the Uniform Civil Code again to protect their rights for equality and secularism. However, their move did not fructify due to the stiff opposition from the orthodox section of people from both Hindu and Muslim communities. Only after the independence, the efforts to bring some dignity to women folks bore fruit. In 1956, the Indian Parliament passed this landmark legislation help the case of Hindu Widows. The historians call this legislation as Hindu Code Bill. Following the cue, three Indian Prime Ministers tried to bring in legislation to sanctify the Uniform Civil Code in the Indian Constitution. All these efforts did not meet the logical end due to the stiff opposition from different people. Hence, the authorities had to tone down their demand and finally add its reference to the Directive Principles of India.

muslim laws

Why it has Become a Politically Sensitive Issue?

It had become one of the controversial topics during the Shah Bano Case in 1985. During that time, the effort of introducing the provision for the Uniform Civil Code had become an important issue about Secularism in India. It was at this time the historical show off occurred between the Union Government and AIMPLB at the Apex Court. The Muslim Personal Law Board claimed that the Sharia Law formed the basis for Personal Law for Muslim. This Sharia Law has remained unreformed since 1937. This controversial law in fact permits unilateral divorce and polygamy in the community. Hence, the unreformed law gave upper hand to the male members of Muslim community, forcing the female members to stay in the mercy of their male counterparts.

Thuruvananthapuram Delhi, India
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