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Uniform Civil Code (UCC)

A Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a set of civil laws that regulate personal matters, including marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance and succession, for all citizens irrespective of their religion. The aim of a Uniform Civil Code is to replace the current patchwork of personal laws that vary depending on religion.

Article 44 of Indian Constitution says that “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India”. Article 44 is one of the Directive Principles of State Policy. However, as defined in Article 37, they are justiciable (not enforceable by any court) but the principles laid down therein are fundamental in governance.

Governance of personal laws in India:

At present different religious communities in India are currently governed by a system of personal laws. These laws largely focus on the following areas:

  • Marriage & Divorce
  • Custody & Guardianship
  • Adoption & Maintenance
  • Succession & Inheritance

Hindu personal law is codified in four Acts: Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Hindu Minority & Guardianship Act and Hindu Adoptions & Maintenance Act.

  • The term ‘Hindu’ also includes Sikhs, Jains & Buddhists for the purpose of these laws.

Muslim personal law is not codified and is based on their religious texts.

In the Northeast, there are more than 200 tribes with their own varied customary laws. The Constitution protects local customs in Nagaland, Meghalaya & Mizoram. Even reformed Hindu law, despite codification, protects customary practices.

Goa is, at present, the only state in India with uniform civil code.

  • The Portuguese Civil Code of 1867 which continues to be implemented after India added Goa in 1961, applies to all Goans, irrespective of their religious or ethnic community.
  • However, the Portuguese Code is not a completely uniform civil code. It makes certain provisions on religious bases. The most notable example is Hindu men being allowed bigamy if the wife fails to deliver a child by the age of 25, or a male child by the age of 30.

An Example of Difference Personal Laws in India:

Women’s inheritance rights in India vary according to their religion.

Hindu Succession Act,1956- Hindu women have the same right to inherit from their parents and are treated equally to Hindu men. Married and unmarried daughters have equal rights, and women are considered joint legal heirs for the partition of ancestral property. Muslim Personal Laws- Muslim women are entitled to a portion of their husband’s wealth, which can be either one-eighth or one-quarter, depending on if there are children. But daughters’ share is only half that of sons.

Indian Succession Act, 1925- Christians, Parsis and Jews have their own rules for inheritance, and Christians get a set amount based on whether there are children or other family members. Zoroastrian widows get the same amount as their children, and if the deceased’s parents are alive, half of their child’s share goes to them.

Arguments about Uniform Civil Code:

  • Civil Laws:- In numerous civil matters, such as the Transfer of Property Act, Contracts Act, and Partnership Act, Indian law does not adhere to a standard code. States have modified their laws in several areas. However, Uniform Civil Code will make legislation that are currently differentiated based on religious convictions, such as the Hindu Code Bill and Shariat Law, simpler. It will make complicated regulations pertaining to marriage, inheritance, succession, and adoptions simpler and more universal. Regardless of religion, all residents will be subject to the same civil law.
  • Personal Laws:- As “Personal Laws” are specified in the Concurrent List, Parliament does not have sole authority over these laws. But numerous rulings by the higher judiciary have favored Uniform Civil Code, such as in Shah Bano case 1985 and Sarla Mudgal case from 1995, where the Supreme Court reaffirmed the need for the Parliament to establish Uniform Civil Code, which would aid in national unity by eradicating ideological inconsistencies. Even in the S.R. Bommai case, the Supreme Court ruled that the State can regulate secular activities by passing legislation.
  • Gender Justice:- Most personal laws that are based on religion or custom favor men. Personal laws enforce patriarchal stereotypes in addition to violating the right to life, liberty, and dignity granted by Article 21. As a result, Uniform Civil Code will promote gender equality. 
  • National Unity:- Different laws for different religious groups breed communalism. Single, secular law governing various aspects of personal matters would arouse a sense of oneness and national spirit.

Keeping in view of the above points and responses from the people about Uniform Civil Code, the Law Commission has extended the deadline for public submissions on the Uniform Civil Code until July 28 due to overwhelming response.

Freedom of religion is core to secular democracy like India. But religious practices, which are violative of human rights and dignity and suffocate civil and material freedom, are the mark of oppression. Hence, a unified code is imperative both for protection of oppressed and to promote national unity and solidarity.

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