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Policy dive: Should India have a Uniform Civil Code?

Policy dive picks a policy issue, traces the debate around it, the different schools of thought and the choice involved.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2018 09:19 IST
Jatin Gandhi
Jatin Gandhi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Uniform Civil Code,UCC,Reservation
A demonstration against Uniform Civil Code at Azad Maidan in Mumbai.(Arijit Sen/HT File Photo)

The Law Commission’s fresh appeals for public comments on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) have reignited discussions on the need for a common set of laws for all communities.

Here’s all you need to know about the UCC: 

The issue

The Law Commission of India has revived deliberations on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) by issuing a fresh appeal for public comments on the issue by April 6.

The responses will likely generate a debate with strong views on both side of the political divide in favour of and against the move to replace different sets of personal laws for different communities with one common set of laws.

The Indian constitution currently allows different communities to follow their personal laws for, among other things, marriage, divorce, inheritance and succession, and adoption. The contentious nature of the issue is best illustrated by the fact that Article 25 of the constitution upholds the practice and propagation of religion as a fundamental right while Article 44 lists that the state shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code through out the country, as one of the directive principles of state policy.

It’s significance

The UCC has been a hot-button political issue for two decades, ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made it a part of its manifesto in 1998. Parties opposed to the BJP see the attempt to bring in the UCC as politically expedient.

In June 2016, the then law minister DV Sadananda Gowda sent a reference to the Law Commission to examine whether it was time to ITS SIGNIFICANCE enforce a uniform civil code. The term of the 21st Law Commission headed by Justice BS Chauhan ends on August 31 and it needs to submit its report by then. Justice Chauhan said in an earlier interview to Hindustan Times that if the commission finds it difficult to come up with a composite code, it would suggest religion-specific “piecemeal” legislative changes to family laws of different religions.

The debate

On the political front, there are strong views for and against a common civil code. In October 2016, the Law Commission released a questionnaire seeking views of the public and political parties. The commission has already received over 45,000responses.Politicalparties,themost vocal on the issue, have refrained from giving a direct response to the commission.

Opposition: The All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) met officials of the Law Commission in October 2016 and later held a press conference boycotting the whole exercise. AIMPLB said it would not accept the UCC in any form and that Islamic personal laws are more than adequate. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, which has only one Lok Sabha MP – its president Asaduddin Owaisi – wrote to the Law Commission saying the initiative is an attempt at interference in the personal affairs of Muslims. The Congress has described there ference made by the BJP-led government as “politically motivated.” The Communist Party of India (Marxist) said it would not participate in the “biased” exercise. BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal has also warned against the move. In favour: The BJP has not responded to the Law Commission but it has been a strong votary of a UCC. The party’s 2014 manifesto reiterated its commitment “to draft a Uniform Civil Code, drawing upon the best traditions and harmonising them with modern times”. The promise was also included in BJP manifestos of 2009, 2004 and 1998. The Shiv Sena has backed the UCC.

Civil society says: Civil society appears divided on the subject. Some have opposed the UCC aspart of a majoritarian agenda, while others have suggested the need for reforming personal laws and making them contemporary, progressive, and gender-sensitive. In October, a group of eight citizens including Magsay say award winners Bezwada Wilson and singer TM Krishna submitted a draft code to the commission as its response while rejecting the targeting of religious, sexual and social minorities

First Published: Mar 22, 2018 09:17 IST