Recently, the Law Commission of India issued a notification asking all the stakeholders to give their opinion about the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) by 13th July 2023. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that there should be a common code of personal law, or family law, for all citizens of the country regardless of their religion, gender and sexual orientation. This sparked a widespread debate in the country with input from individuals, organizations and political parties on all sides. As of 29th June, the Law Commission had received 850,000 responses.
As of now, personal laws of various communities are governed by their religious scriptures. UCC is an important issue regarding secularism in Indian politics and continues to remain disputed by India’s political Left wing, Muslim groups and other conservative religious groups and sects in defence of Sharia and religious customs. Articles 25-28 of the Indian Constitution guarantee religious freedom to Indian citizens and allow religious groups to maintain their own affairs. Article 44 of the Constitution expects the Indian state to apply directive principles and common law for all Indian citizens while formulating National policies.
Hindu code bills were introduced after Independence, but Christians, Jews, Muslims and Parsis were exempted
After India’s Independence, Hindu code bills were introduced which largely codified and reformed personal laws in various sects among Indian religions like Buddhists, Hindus, Jains and Sikhs but it exempted Christians, Jews, Muslims and Parsis, being identified as distinct communities from Hindus.
What do the Indian Constitution and Supreme Court say about the Uniform Civil Code ?
The Constitution has a provision for Uniform Civil Code in Article 44 as a Directive Principle of State Policy which states – ‘The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India’.
Dr BR Ambedkar said about UCC – “We have this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is so full of inequities, discriminations and other things which conflict with our fundamental rights. I personally do not understand why religion should be given this vast, expansive jurisdiction, so as to cover the whole of life and to prevent the legislature from encroaching upon that field. After all, what do we have this liberty for ?”
Nehru was attached to the UCC in which he saw one corner stone of the modernization of India. He even announced that his Government would resign if UCC bill was not passed. Ambedkar pressed him to submit it as quickly as possible to the Parliament.
In October 2015, Supreme Court of India asserted the need for a Uniform Civil Code. There are a number of cases where the SC has referred to Article 44 and the concept of Uniform Civil Code, mainly to highlight the lacklustre attitude of the Executive and the Legislature in the implementation of the directive.
However, Muslim organisations have so far opposed the proposed UCC. And, now Christian churches and organisations have also jumped on the bandwagon.
(Do note that while Muslims and Christians demand equal treatment for all religions, they oppose the Government when it makes efforts in that direction ! – Editor)