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What is Uniform Civil Code ? Constitutional Provisions and It’s origins.

The controversial Uniform Civil Code has sparked controversy once again after a comment by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During an event in Madhya Pradesh, PM Modi hinted about the Uniform Civil Code, stating that a country can‘t run on two different laws. After his statement, intense debates and discussions about the UCC spread everywhere.

What is Uniform Civil Code ?

Basically, the Uniform Civil Code is a proposed set of laws that would replace all personal laws of different communities by establishing a common set of laws that would be applicable to every citizen, irrespective of their religion, gender, caste, custom, or tradition.

Currently, there are several laws for different communities that deal with Personal matters such as marriage, divorce, adoption, succession, etc.

Constitutional provisions

The Constitution of India, under Article 44, which is part of the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP), says that “states shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for their citizens”. However, Directive Principles are not enforceable by law, it means government is not legally obligated to implement them.The implementation of a UCC requires amendment in the parliament to replace existing personal laws.

Various Personal laws in India

In India, Personal laws for marriage, divorce, adoption, succession, etc. are generally based on religious traditions. The idea of personal laws in India respects and acknowledges the country‘s religious diversity by allowing members of various religious communities to adhere to their own systems of law.

Hindu Personal laws

Hindu Personal Laws are derived from various ancient texts. These laws address legal issues such as succession, marriage, adoption, property division within the family, maintenance, guardianship, and other related matters.

Let’s go through each of them.

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955

This law regulates Hindu marriages, covering aspects like validity, divorce, property rights, and the rights and responsibilities of spouses within the marriage.

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956

This law governs the inheritance and succession rights of Hindus, including equal rights for sons and daughters in ancestral property and rules for distribution.

The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, 1956

This law deals with the guardianship of minors and their rights, defining the roles and responsibilities of guardians in the Hindu community.

The Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956

This law regulates adoption among Hindus and provides guidelines for maintenance obligations towards dependents within the Hindu community.

Muslim Personal laws 

It governs personal matters and family law for Muslims based on Islamic principles and customs. Below are some key aspects of Muslim personal laws:

The Shariat Application Act, 1937

It recognizes and applies Muslim Personal Law in India regarding matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other aspects governed by Islamic principles within the Muslim community.

The Wakf Act, 1954

This law governs the administration and regulation of Wakf properties, which are charitable endowments made for religious or philanthropic purposes in the Islamic community.

The Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act, 1939

This law provides provisions for the dissolution of Muslim marriages through means such as talaq, khula, and judicial intervention in specific circumstances.

Other Personal laws
The Christian Marriage Act, 1872.
The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1936.
The Anand Marriage Act, 1909.
The Special Marriage Act, 1964.

Historical Facts

During the colonial period, British rulers sought to implement a uniform legal system in India to replace the diverse personal laws of different religious communities. However, their efforts faced resistance due to concerns over religious and cultural autonomy.

After the independence of India in 1947, discussions on a UCC gained momentum. The framers of the Indian Constitution debated the inclusion of a directive principle for a UCC, aiming to create a common set of laws for all citizens irrespective of religion.

Legal History related to UCC
The Shah Bano case (1985)

It refers to a landmark legal case in India where the Supreme Court ruled that Muslim women are entitled to maintenance beyond the period of iddat (post-divorce waiting period), sparking a nationwide debate on the need for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India.

The Sarla Mudgal vs Union of India (1995)

This case dealt with the issue of the conversion of Hindu spouses to Islam for the purpose of contracting polygamous marriages. The Supreme Court held that such conversions and subsequent marriages were invalid and called for the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC).

The Daniel Latifi vs Union of India (2001)

This addressed the issue of maintenance and the rights of Muslim divorced women. The Supreme Court held that Muslim husbands are liable to provide maintenance to their divorced wives beyond the period of iddat and emphasized the need for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC).

The John Vallamattom vs Union of India (2003)

This dealt with the issue of the rights of Christian religious minorities to own and manage their educational institutions without government interference. The Supreme Court upheld the autonomy of Christian institutions and affirmed the principles of religious freedom and minority rights.

The Law Commission of India‘s reports

It has published several reports discussing the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and its implementation. Below are some notable Law Commission reports on the UCC:

14th Report (1958): This report examined the need for a UCC and recommended the gradual implementation of a common code that would reconcile the diverse personal laws of different religious communities.

71st Report (1978): This report discussed the UCC in the context of marriage and divorce laws, highlighting the need for a comprehensive legislation that would address issues of gender equality and social justice.

212th Report (2008): This report analyzed the implementation of a UCC, emphasizing the importance of taking into account the diversity of Indian society while also upholding the principles of gender justice, non-discrimination, and individual rights.

245th Report (2014): This report focused on the implementation of a UCC in the context of family laws, including matters related to marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance. It proposed guidelines for the gradual adoption of a common code.

However, in August 31st 2018 the commission published a report stated that “Uniform Civil Code is neither necessary nor desirable for the time being“.

Goa is the only state to have Uniform Civil Code

The State of Goa adopted the Portuguese Civil Code after gaining independence, which enforced a UCC on all of its citizens. Each asset that a married couple owns or acquires is owned equally under this code.

Stand of state Governments

On May 27 last year, the Uttarakhand government announced its decision to implement the Uniform Civil Code in the state. The state government formed a 5 member committee led by Justice (retd.) Ranjana Prakash Desai to prepare a draft proposal for the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code. Any individual who is a resident of Uttarakhand can give their suggestions to this committee.

Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma also highlighted the UCC; he said that in order to provide justice for all Muslim women, the Uniform Civil Code must be implemented in the state.

Not only Uttarakhand and Assam, but Gujrat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana have also supported the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code in the country.

While Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland witnessed strong opposition to the UCC.

Way Forward

The introduction of UCC has been a topic of discussion and is still a complicated and difficult matter.While supporters claim that a UCC would advance gender equality, unity in society, and secularism, critics express worries about the invasion of personal freedoms and the possibility of cultural absorption.

Ultimately, the decision on implementing a UCC should involve careful consideration of constitutional rights, societal diversity, and the need for equitable and inclusive governance that respects individual liberties and preserves cultural pluralism.

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