The government’s move to seek a report from the law panel on implementing a uniform civil code has triggered a political debate with the principal opposition Congress linking it to assembly elections early next year.
The debate is also likely to resonate in the Parliament session beginning July 18.
The law ministry has asked the Law Commission of India to examine and prepare a report on the contentious issue of enacting a uniform civil code, opposed by sections of minority communities.
India has separate sets of personal laws for each religion governing marriage, divorce, succession, adoption and maintenance. While Hindu law overhaul began in the 1950s and continues, activists have long argued that Muslim personal law, which has remained mostly unchanged, is tilted against women.
To end the confusion over personal laws, the Supreme Court has been advocating a uniform civil code.
Sources said commission chairman justice (retd) Balbir Singh Chauhan has called a meeting of the full panel next week to deliberate on the matter.
The panel is also likely to seek the views of the National Commission for Minorities on suggesting changes to the different personal laws relating to minority communities.
Sources said the commission could appoint separate teams to examine changes in law pertaining to marital law, property and succession and divorce laws. However, deliberations with various stakeholders could take several months and even a few years, they said.
The move, coming barely months before the Uttar Pradesh elections and at a time when the triple talaq debate is on, led to the Congress questioning the government’s motive.
“Is it not very interesting that whenever we come near major elections you throw Ayodhya issue, now uniform civil code day after, I am sure before another election Article 370 will come up,” Abhishek Singhvi, Congress spokesperson told reporters on Friday.
“You shoot and scoot, has anything concrete ever been done by the government except this policy of deliberately creating divisive atmosphere, by deliberately raising and leaking such issues for just political gains?’’ he said.
CODE AND EFFECT
- India has separate sets of personal laws for each religion governing marriage, divorce, succession, adoption and maintenance
- Hindu law was modernised in the 1950s, but those for Christians and Muslims are colonial-era relics
- If a uniform civil code is enacted, all personal laws will cease to exist
- It will do away with gender biases in Muslim law, Hindu law and Christian law that have been often challenged by women on the ground that they violate the right to equality
- Polygamy, triple talaq and other such practices that are heavily biased against women will become history
- Article 44 says the state shall work towards securing a uniform civil code across the country replacing personal laws of various religious communities
- The provision is a part of the Directive Principles of State Policy that are not enforceable by any court
- But according to Article 37, the government is duty-bound to apply these principles in making laws.
Senior BJP leader and minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi defended the move.
“The issue of uniform civil code is not new. The government has taken the right step to ask the law commission to give a report. This would widen the scope of academic discussion on the subject.”
The party’s stand on the issue has changed over the years, marking a gentle shift on a sensitive subject. Its manifesto in 2009 said, “There cannot be real gender equality till such time India adopts a uniform civil code which protects the rights of all women. The BJP, as a first step towards this constitutionally mandated direction, will set up a commission to draft a uniform civil code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonising them with the modern times.”
By 2014, the party’s position had become more nuanced.
“Article 44 of the Constitution of India lists uniform civil code as one of the directive principles of state policy. BJP believes that there cannot be gender equality till such time India adopts a uniform civil code, which protects the rights of all women, and the BJP reiterates its stand to draft a uniform civil code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonising them with the modern times.”