Uniform Civil Code not a cakewalk

If the government is working with the belief that they can implement the Uniform Civil Code as easily and hassle-free as they revoked Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, then they are living in a utopian world.
Uniform Civil Code not a cakewalk

Ritika Das

(Indraprastha College for Women, Delhi University)

If the government is working with the belief that they can implement the Uniform Civil Code as easily and hassle-free as they revoked Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, then they are living in a utopian world.

It was in August of 2019 that the Central government scrapped Article 370 and made both Jammu and Kashmir union territories. Now, after 4 years, it seems that the Central government is all set to embark on another ‘potentially’ historic yet controversial issue, the Uniform Civil Code.

The Uniform Civil Code, abbreviated as UCC, is a proposal in India to establish one single equal law system for the citizens, regardless of their religion, gender, or sexual preferences. It sought to do away with the personal laws of various communities, which cover marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, and maintenance. As early as the constitution’s making, UCC was included in the constitution as a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP). Article 44 states that “The State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India’’. It is important to note that the DPSP is non-justifiable, i.e., the government is not compelled to implement the articles mentioned there.

Hence, the topic of UCC went unattended for the longest time, until the Shah Bano case of 1985. The petition was filed by Shah Bano in the Supreme Court and questioned the divorce procedure prescribed in Muslim Personal Law and how it provided very few rights to married Muslim women. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Shah Bano by granting her the right to maintenance from her husband. This led to a persistent demand for the implementation of UCC, especially by non-Muslims. Further, UCC was a part of the BJP’s manifesto in 1998, but it failed to gain momentum. After a long gap, the UCC was again proposed twice in parliament: in November 2019 by Narayan Lal Panchariya and in March 2020 by Kirodi Lal Meena. But in both cases, the bill did not reach final enactment.

Currently, The BJP-led NDA government has been at the forefront of executing the Uniform Civil Code, and similar to Article 370, it wants to bring about a historic change in the context of Indian law and constitution. But the point I want to make here is that the scrapping of Article 370 and implementing the Uniform Civil Code are not the same. Both of the constitutional changes are very much in contrast with each other, and unfortunately, the UCC will be a tougher nut to crack than Article 370.

Firstly, while Article 370 only concerned one state of India, that is, Jammu and Kashmir, the UCC, on the other hand, concerns the entire country. Scrapping the constitutional privilege mainly irked the inhabitants of J&K, but UCC will impact the rituals and lives of various communities, which, even though they live under the protection of the same Supreme Court, all have their own personal laws to follow. Implementing UCC will not only jolt Muslim personal laws but also those of various other communities like Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, and some special Tribal laws too.

Secondly, as J&K was furiously turning into a dangerous terrorist breeding ground and threatening national security, the majority of Indians agreed with the scrapping of the state’s exclusive privileges and bringing it under the purview of the Central Government. But the Central Government cannot expect the same for UCC by simply riding on the inequalities that Muslim Personal Laws bore with them. That is because, along with the Muslim communities, there is also the entire Northeast, excluding Assam, which is opposing the UCC in their respective states. They are scared that their indigenous tribal laws will cease to exist once UCC comes in, and that would make them vulnerable to the dominant mainstream cultures and rules.

Thirdly, unlike Article 370, the execution of the UCC also has its opposition in the form of some constitutional articles like 25–28 and 371(A–J). While the former deals with the Fundamental Rights, which guarantee religious freedom to Indian citizens and allow religious groups to maintain their own affairs, the latter deals with the special autonomous rights given to the Northeast states, which protect the ethnicity and culture of the tribal laws against some of the decisions taken in Parliament.

Fourthly, when Article 370 was removed from Jammu and Kashmir, many prominent leaders like Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah, and Farooq Abdullah were put on house arrest on the pretext of preventive detention. This averted much of the retaliation that could have happened there. But if the ruling government went on doing the same thing for the whole of India during the UCC implementation, then it would turn out to be the biggest act of preventive detention after the Emergency of 1975, and we are not quite sure if the government would like to replicate 1975 again.

Lastly, the BJP as a state party never enjoyed much confidence in the then J&K state, and thus, there was never a question about losing support or a majority there, and the government could easily look into the greater good of the country. But things are different with UCC. Here, the BJP needs to be careful. Especially in the northern states, where they enjoy a comfortable majority,

On a concluding note, the ruling government has a huge task in hand if they actually want to implement the UCC in India. As a country that was made to believe that secularism means the right for everyone to enjoy their own religious beliefs and cultures and that unity is in diversity’, the current government will be trying to establish a different notion of secularism by doing away with the diversity and putting everyone on the same pedestal. While it would surely be a very interesting thing to witness, while trying to bring in equality for all, it doesn’t bring in more problems with it.

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