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  • A uniform civil code will mean a set of common personal laws for all citizens. Currently, for example, there are different personal laws for Hindus and Muslims. Personal law covers property, marriage and divorce, inheritance and succession.
  • Uniform Civil code is enshrined as article 44, as part of the Directive Principles of States policy, in the Indian Constitution. It makes the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code as a duty of the state
  • Personal Laws in India were first framed in India during British Rule. The British feared opposition from community leaders and refrained from further interfering within this domestic sphere. The demand for a uniform civil code was first put forward by women activists in the beginning of the twentieth century, with the objective of women's rights, equality and secularism.
  • After independence, the Indian Government under Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to bring out a uniform civil code. However, after heated debates and oppositions, 4 bills relating to personal laws of Hindus (Hindu Marriage Act, Succession Act, Minority and Guardianship Act and Adoptions and Maintenance Act) could only be passed.
  • The uniform civil code became a flashpoint in Indian politics in 1985 during the Shah Bano case. The Supreme Court had held that Bano, a Muslim woman, should get alimony from her former spouse. In the context of that judgement, the court had said uniform civil code should apply for personal law. The Rajiv Gandhi government had controversially piloted a law in Parliament to overturn the Supreme Court ruling.
Debate on uniform civil code
  • The uniform civil code has always been a subject of intense debate. An examination of the various stands pro and against the same follows:
  • • Arguments Pro uniform civil code-
    • As per Article 44 enshrined in the Constitution, it is a duty of the State to move towards establishing a uniform civil code
    • It means Uniform laws for all engendering equality among all citizens; Inconsistency in personal laws runs contrary to Right to Equality
    • True spirit of secularism- Uniform Civil code is true spirit of secularism as religion is a personal matter so laws should be common for all religions
    • Needed to protect vulnerable sections of the society from abuses associated with unequal, derogatory and in human personal laws; For eg anti- women laws
    • Article 25 empowers state to regulate “secular activity which may be associated with religious practices”
    • The establishment of a Uniform Civil code would pave way for greater unity among Indians. The animosity due to different treatment of different sections under different laws will be removed.
    • Human right violations and exploitations due to social institutional and norms such as Khap dictates and honour killings can be checked effectively.
    • Uniformity of laws will reduce the burden on judiciary in context of pronouncing judgements on personal laws
  • Views against Uniform Civil Code:
    • Accommodation of various ideas/beliefs and consensus building should be the key rather than legal enforcement of a uniform set of norms. The society must be slowed reformed and no manner of coercion must be exercised.
    • The fears among the minority community of majority domination must be adequately allayed and all apprehensions addressed.
    • In the views of some experts, the idea of uniform civil code is against secularism ideals as it involves the state interfering in religious matters.
Recent events
  • SC has been considering a suo motu PIL on gender discrimination faced by Muslim women owing to arbitrary divorce and second marriage of their husbands during the currency of their first marriage
  • Recently, the Government has asked the law commission to examine the issue implementing the Uniform Civil Code. This is the first time a government has asked the commission, which has a crucial advisory role on legal reform, to look into the politically controversial issue of a uniform civil code.
Way ahead
  • Clearly, the concept of uniform civil code is fraught with numerous differences in opinions and has multiple challenges on-road to its implementation by the Indian state.
  • Challenges in the way of implementation of Uniform Civil Code
    • Building a consensus over Uniform laws in personal matters among various communities in India is a humongous task itself.
    • India has a long history of personal laws which people are familiar with. Hence, abrupt changes in these laws will be difficult to adapt for the people and may even cause confusion.
    • Further, no draft of uniform code has been prepared yet. Also questions regarding the nature of a uniform civil code if implemented in future should it be a blend of personal laws of various religious communities in India or have completely different provisions based on the Constitution of India.
  • Way out
    • There needs to a massive consensus building campaign. The state authorities and informed members of civil society must work together to convince communities about need for genuine reform in their personal laws and the benefits of enforcing a uniform civil code. Further, allaying minority fears over the code is the need of the hour.
    • Further, a piecemeal approach can also be adopted to start reform in areas/sections where communities are most comfortable with reform thereby gradually starting the process of transformation.

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