The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) calls for the formulation of one law for India, which would be applicable to all religious communities in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption. The code comes under Article 44 of the Constitution, which lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India.
The issue has been at the center of political narrative and debate for over a century and a priority agenda for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has been pushing for the legislation in Parliament. The saffron party was the first to promise the implementation of UCC if it comes to power and the issue was part of its 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto.
Why is Article 44 important?
The objective of Article 44 of the Directive Principles in the Indian Constitution was to address the discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise diverse cultural groups across the country. Dr. B R Ambedkar, while formulating the Constitution had said that a UCC is desirable but for the moment it should remain voluntary, and thus the Article 35 of the draft Constitution was added as a part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy in part IV of the Constitution of India as Article 44. It was incorporated in the Constitution as an aspect that would be fulfilled when the nation would be ready to accept it and the social acceptance to the UCC could be made.
Ambedkar in his speech in the Constituent Assembly had said, "No one need be apprehensive that if the State has the power, the State will immediately proceed to execute…that power in a manner may be found to be objectionable by the Muslims or by the Christians or by any other community. I think it would be a mad government if it did so."
Origin of Uniform Civil Code
The origin of the UCC dates back to colonial India when the British government submitted its report in 1835 stressing the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, and contracts, specifically recommending that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims be kept outside such codification.
Increase in legislations dealing with personal issues in the far end of the British rule forced the government to form the B N Rau Committee to codify Hindu law in 1941. The task of the Hindu Law Committee was to examine the question of the necessity of common Hindu laws. The committee, in accordance with scriptures, recommended a codified Hindu law, which would give equal rights to women. The 1937 Act was reviewed and the committee recommended a civil code of marriage and succession for Hindus.
What is the Hindu Code Bill?
The draft of the Rau Committee report was submitted to a select committee chaired by B R Ambedkar that came up for discussion in 1951 after the adoption of the Constitution. While discussions continued, the Hindu Code Bill lapsed and was resubmitted in 1952. The bill was then adopted in 1956 as the Hindu Succession Act to amend and codify the law relating to intestate or unwilled succession, among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. The Act reformed the Hindu personal law and gave women greater property rights, and ownership. It gave women property rights in their father's estate.
The general rules of succession under the Act 1956 for a male who dies intestate is that heirs in Class I succeed in preference to heirs in other classes. An amendment to the Act in the year 2005 added more descendants elevating females to Class I heirs. The daughter is allotted the same share as is allotted to a son.
Difference between civil laws and criminal laws
While the criminal laws in India are uniform and applicable equally on all, no matter what their religious beliefs are, the civil laws are influenced by faith. Swayed by religious texts, the personal laws which come into effect in civil cases have always been implemented according to constitutional norms.
What are personal laws?
Laws that apply to a certain group of people based on their religion, caste, faith, and belief made after due consideration of customs and religious texts. The personal laws of Hindus and Muslims find their source and authority in their religious ancient texts.
In Hinduism, personal laws are applicable to legal issues related to inheritance, succession, marriage, adoption, co-parenting, obligations of sons to pay their father’s debts, the partition of family property, maintenance, guardianship, and charitable donations. In Islam, personal laws apply to matters relating to inheritance, wills, succession, legacies, marriage, wakfs, dowry, guardianship, divorce, gifts, and pre-emption taking roots from Quran.
What will Uniform Civil Code do?
The UCC aims to provide protection to vulnerable sections as envisaged by Ambedkar including women and religious minorities, while also promoting nationalistic fervour through unity. When enacted the code will work to simplify laws that are segregated at present on the basis of religious beliefs like the Hindu code bill, Shariat law, and others. The code will simplify the complex laws around marriage ceremonies, inheritance, succession, adoptions making them one for all. The same civil law will then be applicable to all citizens irrespective of their faith.