It is indeed surprising that in the world’s largest democracy that has also accepted secularism as a guiding principle, there should be such strong reluctance to admit that secularism is bound to become a distant, uttaible objective unless the tion is of one mind about accepting and implementing a uniform civil code. Article 44 of our Constitution reads like a casual half-hearted attempt to include a uniform civil code in our statute largely because any talk about secularism without also ensuring a uniform civil code would appear to be hypocritical. This is what Article 44 says: “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizen a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” The operative phrase that makes Article 44 look like something inserted for the sake of appearances is “shall endeavour to secure” instead of “shall secure”. This lukewarm commitment to a uniform civil code is reflected also in the Supreme Court’s rejection, in a large number of cases, attempts (through public interest litigation) to seek the issue of writs (a) praying for the introduction of uniform civil code; or (b) declaring certain ectments relating to family law (alleged to be discrimitory) as unconstitutiol. The Supreme Court’s approach to the principle of a uniform civil code has generally not been very different from that of most lawmakers who feel that even though a uniform law for all persons may be desirable, its ectment at one go may be counter-productive the unity of the tion. In any case, Article 44 had to be in the Indian Constitution for the simple reason that a failure to evince even a ritualistic commitment to a uniform civil code would make our commitment to secularism appear to be rather hollow.
It is hardly surprising that there should be periodic demands for the implementation of a uniform civil code by different groups of citizens either because of the inordite delay in implementing a uniform law for all citizens or because certain groups feel threatened by the consequences of a strict application of the uniform law principle. Recently, the Law Commission decided to invite views on the contentious Uniform Civil Code (UCC). On Thursday, the All India Muslim Persol Law Board (AIMPLB) and other Muslim organizations said they would boycott the Law Commission’s initiative and accused the Modi government of waging a ‘war’ against the community. On the other hand, right-wing organizations like the BJP and Shiv Se, long-time votaries of a uniform civil code, have strongly supported the government’s decision, emphasising that the initiative would bolster gender equality and end discrimition against women. The AIMPLB and the representatives of Muslim organizations have contended that if the UCC is implemented it would paint all the people in ‘one colour’ and threaten India’s pluralism and diversity. They have also strongly criticized the government’s stand on the issue of triple talaq, claiming that there were fewer divorces among Muslims compared to other communities, especially Hindus, who had a higher divorce ratio according to the census of 2011.
Such arguments generally skirt the main issue, which is that a secular country ought to have one single set of laws for all citizens and can have no justifiable reason to make room for laws of other countries merely because such laws suit a substantial part of the population. There is a marked increase in the Muslim population of several European countries; but barring the United Kingdom no European country has deemed it necessary to have a different set of laws for Muslims or to make room for the Sharia. There are quite a few Muslim countries like Turkey and Syria that do not permit polygamy. Even in Pakistan, it is necessary for any citizen who wishes to have more than one wife to seek the permission of the government. We do not hear of people complaining in such countries because their right to polygamy has been taken away. Why then should citizens of a secular country complain because there is just one set of laws for all citizens? There are many countries in Europe with a large Muslim population. One cannot think of any European country (barring the United Kingdom) that has made a separate set of laws based on the Sharia or allowed such citizens to be governed by the Sharia. Quite a few countries have begun to tell all citizens that there is only one set of laws for everyone, and if people are not happy with these laws and demand that laws of another country should be implemented for certain citizens, they have the freedom to leave. It is high time that the world’s largest democracy (and a secular one at that) went all out to have a uniform civil code for all citizens. We have had a long wait for this since the time our constitution was framed.