Implementing a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the country should be viewed through the prism of upholding human dignity, a fundamental right, and not merely be an exercise in enforcing a directive principle, Law Commission of India chairman justice Balbir Singh Chauhan said on Thursday.
“Why should it just be viewed as a debate on article 44 (which speaks of a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens under the Directive Principles of State Policy) and not article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty)?” the former Supreme Court judge told HT in an interview.
The law commission, which justice Chauhan has been heading since September, is examining the issue of implementing the UCC after it received a reference from the law ministry last month.
India has separate sets of personal laws for each religion governing marriage, divorce, succession, adoption and maintenance — many of which, activists say, are tilted against women.
The ruling BJP has long been a votary of the UCC that proposes to replace these personal laws with a common set governing all citizens. But the move is opposed by sections of different communities, which see it as a bid to erase their cultural and religious identities.
“Take the case of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. Does it apply only to a particular section of society? It applies to everybody considering the health of women. Nobody can say it applies only to Hindus or Sikhs or Jains. The question here is how to protect and improve the dignity of women without disturbing their religious faith, beliefs and right to worship. This Act itself is an advancement of the Uniform Civil Code… There are many other examples,” justice Chauhan said.
The commission met to discuss the issue for the first time on Monday. “We had a session and it was decided we must collect material, consult experts on the subject and frame what are the issues involved,” justice Chauhan said. Compiling a report, to be submitted to the ministry, “will be a long-drawn process”, he said.
Asked if the panel had set itself a deadline, he said there was none.
Justice Chauhan said now was the right time to start a debate on implementing the Uniform Civil Code, with the Supreme Court already hearing a petition on the constitutional validity of triple talaq (divorce under Muslim personal law by the husband pronouncing ‘talaq’ thrice).
Pointing out that the law panel could only make recommendations, he said, “It is for Parliament to debate the issue. It should be debated in the political field, at public platforms. Everybody has a right to express his views.”
Justice Chauhan said the panel would consult with all sections, particularly those opposed to changes in personal laws, including the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.
“We want to study the matter in detail because it is a very sensitive issue. A wide range of debates and consultations is required. A step has been taken forward to get a report. I can comment only after getting the report,” DV Sadananda Gowda, who recently stepped down as law minister, had said last week.