Headline : Debate on Uniform Civil Code
What is a civil code?
- A civil code is a systematic collection of laws designed to deal with the core areas of private law such as for dealing with business and negligence lawsuits and practices.
- A jurisdiction that has a civil code generally also has a code of civil procedure.
What is Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?
- Uniform civil Code is a proposal to have a generic set of governing laws for every citizen without taking into consideration the religion.
- Article 44 of the Constitution says that there should be a Uniform Civil Code.
- According to this article, “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”.
- Since the Directive Principles are only guidelines, it is not mandatory to use them.
How did the debate on UCC come about?
- Uniform Civil Code was one of the key issues debated during the writing of the Constitution, with passionate arguments on both sides. However, unable to arrive at a solution, a directive principle was struck regarding this in the constitution.
- The Constituent Assembly debates reveal a lack of consensus on what a potential uniform civil code would entail.
- The stand taken by B.R. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly debates has survived the years. Dr. Ambedkar had said that UCC is desirable but for the moment should remain voluntary.
- While many thought the UCC would coexist alongside the personal law systems, others thought that it was to replace the personal law.
- There were yet others who believed that the UCC would deny the freedom of religion.
- It was this uncertainty that led it to be included in the Directive Principles of State Policy rather than the chapter on Fundamental Rights in the Constitution.
Why does it matter?
- The codification of personal laws has historically generated protests.
- The Hindu Code Bill, one of the foremost pieces of social legislation, had triggered enormous opposition.
- The debate on the UCC is centred on the argument to replace individual personal customs and practices of marriage, divorce, adoption and successions with a common code.
- Those in favour of one code argue that it will end discrimination in religions.
- Detractors contend that it will rob the nation of its religious diversity and violate the fundamental right to practise religion enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution.
- In fact, they hold that a state action to introduce the UCC is against the quintessence of democracy.
- The secular state is an enabler of rights rather than an inhibitor in sensitive matters of religion and personal laws.
- The objective of UCC should be to address the discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise diverse cultural practices.
Why it is difficult to have a UCC?
- India being a secular country guarantees its minorities the right to follow their own religion, culture and customs under Article 29 and 30. But implementing a Uniform Code will hamper India’s secularism.
- Supreme Court decision came in October 2015 to take suo motu cognisance of the discriminatory practices against Muslim women.
- In October 2016, Law Commission published a “questionnaire” to test the waters on the UCC. It wanted to see whether the nation was ready for it.
- Later in 2017, Supreme Court outlawed triple talaq without addressing the core issue: whether personal law practices should prevail over the fundamental rights of life, dignity and non-discrimination.
- This Bench pointed out that it had been 30 years since the court, in the Shah Bano case, urged the government to frame a common code to “help in the cause of national integration.”
- Recently, in its consultation paper, the Law Commission chose codification of personal laws over the UCC as a way to end discrimination within religions.
- Codification of various practices and customs would make them ‘law’ under Article 13 of the Constitution.
- Any ‘law’ that comes under Article 13 should be consistent with the fundamental rights, the Law Commission has reasoned.
- This would protect the plurality of religions, too, and may be the way forward for the near future.
- In fact, the Law Commission has suggested in no uncertain terms that the UCC is “neither necessary nor desirable at this stage in the country.”
- It said a unified nation does not necessarily need to have “uniformity.”