Law Commission to steer clear of Uniform Civil Code, recommend faith-specific changes
The Law Commission of India will recommend faith-specific amendments to different family laws currently in practice in the country instead of a composite Uniform Civil Code (UCC), its chairperson Justice BS Chauhan has said.
“If a composite code is difficult (to come up with), we will suggest religion-wise amendments to the various family laws in a piecemeal manner,” Chauhan told the Hindustan Times.
India has separate sets of personal laws for each religion governing marriage, divorce, succession, adoption and maintenance. Hindu family laws were modified in the 1950s but those for the Christians and Muslims are colonial-era relics.
Activists have long argued Muslim personal law, which remained mostly unchanged, contains provisions biased against Muslim women, often victims of polygamy and the triple talaq system.
The Uniform Civil Code has been a long-standing poll promise and ideological position of the BJP but many minority groups have opposed what they see as an effort to erase their cultural and religious identities.
The law ministry had in June 2016 sent a reference to the commission asking it for an in-depth examination of “matters in relation to the Uniform Civil Code” and whether the time was ripe for bringing it in.
Chauhan said the commission’s report will be “in consonance with the spirit of the constitution” and in keeping in mind the right of all individuals to practice the religion of their choice.
“There are provisions in the Constitution which extend certain exemptions to the northeast,” Chauhan said referring to the sixth schedule for the administration of tribal areas of the four states of Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and Assam.
The commission’s recommendations will be framed keeping the fundamental rights in mind, he said. “The exemptions provided to communities under the Constitution cannot be done away with,” Chauhan added.
While the Supreme Court has already struck down the practice of instant triple talaq and the government is bringing a bill to penalise it, commission officials have zeroed in on other practices such as bigamy and discrimination against women in inheritance laws that they say need reform.
The commission received nearly 45,000 responses to a detailed questionnaire it circulated on the subject in October last year. The responses came from different stakeholders, including civil society and religious organisations, as well as political parties.
Commission officials involved in the process are now busy sifting through the responses.
“We are yet to examine the issue. We will take this up from January,” Chauhan said.
Commission officials said the focus of the exercise would be to revise and reform family laws to address social injustice rather than do away with the plurality of laws.
The commission’s tenure will come to an end in August next year and the UCC reference is expected to be the last report it submits.