Uniform Civil Code – The term ‘civil code’ describes rights relating to personal matters like property, marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance, etc. The ‘uniform civil code’ means unifying all personal laws that will apply to all citizens, irrespective of the community they belong to.
Now India being the nation of diverse religions, where Hindus form the majority population and other religions like Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhist are given minority status, the question that is asked is whether it is possible or practicable to reconcile divergent laws and formulate a uniform or common code that will be acceptable to communities.
In India, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists are governed by their respective personal laws, which are distinct from each other. These laws are based on religious customs, traditions, and practices specific to each community. Hindu personal laws encompass various legislations, including the Hindu Marriage Act, the Hindu Succession Act, and others, which govern matters like marriage, inheritance, and adoption for Hindus.
On the other hand, Muslims in India are primarily governed by Islamic personal laws, which are derived from the Shariah (Islamic law) and encompass various aspects of personal life, including marriage, divorce, inheritance, and maintenance. These laws are separate from the Hindu personal laws.
Similarly, Christians in India are governed by their own personal laws, which are based on Christian customs and practices. These laws pertain to matters such as marriage, divorce, and succession and are distinct from both Hindu and Islamic personal laws.
But there is so much diversity in Hindu law itself that even the possibility of a uniform Hindu code is ruled out.
According to the Saptapadi form of marriage that is followed mostly in Northern India, the marriage is deemed complete and binding when the couple takes seven rounds steps around the sacred fire. On the other hand, in the south, suyamariyathai and seerthiruththa forms of marriage are allowed. Marriage is valid if the parties to it declare in the presence of relatives that they are marrying each other or if they garland each other or put a ring on each other’s fingers.
Also, for a marriage to be valid under Hindu law, it has to be solemnised in accordance with the customary rites of at least one of the parties.
Controversy: The Shah Bano case was a controversial lawsuit in India where a divorcee, Shah Bano, even after winning the case in the apex court of India, was denied alimony because the Indian parliament reversed the judgement of the supreme court in this case.
In 1985, the Supreme Court of India delivered a landmark judgment in favor of Shah Bano, granting her the right to receive alimony from her husband, who had divorced her.
However, the judgment faced significant opposition from conservative Muslim groups, which argued that the court’s decision interfered with Muslim personal law. This led to widespread protests and political pressure. In response, the Indian Parliament, under pressure from these groups, passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act in 1986.
The Act essentially nullified the Supreme Court’s decision in the Shah Bano case by placing restrictions on the duration and amount of alimony that Muslim women could claim after divorce. It was argued that the Act aimed to uphold the Muslim personal law, which allowed for limited financial support for divorced women.
The Shah Bano case and the subsequent legislation sparked a larger debate in India regarding the rights of Muslim women in matters of divorce and maintenance. It raised questions about the balance between religious personal laws and gender equality, leading to discussions on the need for reforms in family laws to provide equal rights and protection for women of all religions.
It’s worth noting that the Shah Bano case and its aftermath continue to be discussed in the context of gender justice and the rights of Muslim women in India.
Most of the time, to implement uniform civil code in india – it is looked at as a Hindu-Muslim issue. Hence, it is being delayed. The government should adopt a process of consulting various stakeholders to come up with a common code. Issues related to inheritance, separation, marriage, and divorce have to be addressed first. A draft should be put in the public domain for discussion.
Our panchayats at grass-root levels continue to give judgements that are against our constitution. Human rights are violated through honour killings and female foeticide throughout the country. Our society is extremely patriarchal and personal laws based on particular religions which means while Muslims can marry multiple times in India, a Hindu and Christian will be prosecuted for the same. There is a divide between Hindus living in the North and those living in the South. From outside, it does not look like they belong to one Nation.
Why the Uniform Civil Code In India?
Uniform civil code can streamline and integrate national unity. Every religion should accept a national civil code that can solve many problems of the nation (according to human rights, not according to the majority or minority religion). But the question is, can India have a uniform civil code? Is it the right time to implement UCC in India? The need for it has been underlined in the Constitution of India under Article 44 as a directive principle.