The Big Picture- Uniform Civil Code: Where does one begin?
Even after more than 60 years of independence, uniform civil code has been a constant matter of debate. The NDA government formally asked the Law Commission to look into this issue, its pros and cons and present its report. However, it is significant to note here that this is for the first time any government has asked a legal commission to look into a politically controversial matter and this was a part of present government’s manifesto as well.
A uniform civil code means that all citizens of India are to follow the same set of rules and laws irrespective of religion. This does not mean that it limits the freedom of people to follow their respective religious beliefs and customs. It simply means that every individual is supposed to be treated equal in the matters of marriage, inheritance, property, family, adoption etc.
During the British rule, there was a common criminal code for all but the civil courts applied the customary laws which prevailed in any area or among a section of people since times immemorial. The makers of our Constitution felt that uniform civil code was a goal to be accomplished in later stages as post-independence era came with its own set of challenges and problems which demanded more priority than this one.
Some of the problems and possible solutions to provide a beginning to uniform civil code may be as follows:
- Uniform civil code is a replacement of all personal laws is a common belief among people of different communities and religions. For example- Muslims believe in Quran above everything. Shariat law cannot be changed. There is a general perception that accepting uniform civil code is a synonym for accepting Hindu laws enacted in 1955-56.
In order to overcome these fears, there needs to be a draft to build a broad consensus among people in favour of uniform civil code.
- Article 44 under Directive Principles of State Policy mentions the word “uniform civil code” not “common” favouring the idea of liberalism.
- There are a few examples that show uniformity is needed to avoid contradictions like in cases of property rights for women, marriages, domestic violence etc. Many laws have been enacted aiming to bring uniformity in these matters like The Dowry Prohibition Act, The Domestic Violence Act, Child Marriage Prohibition Act, The Special Marriage Act and many others.
- Finally, Articles 14 and 19 of Fundamental Rights guarantee the citizens of India that Constitution will prevail if there is a law which does not stand in conformity with it. Further, the concerns and objections of minority sections can be addressed through wider debates and discussions in order to find a common ground for consensus.
- A uniform civil code will surely be beneficial for women irrespective of any religion or community as they would be treated more fairly and equally.
It needs to be understood that changes are gradually and slowly accepted by the society and are significant for every individual irrespective of community, gender and caste. Rational debates should be there without polarizing a country like India whose secular fabric and national integrity cannot be put at stake. Reforms are needed in all personal laws whether it is Hindu, Muslim or Christian but it is required that these demands come from the people themselves. Forcing a particular set of rules on people will not serve the real purpose of uniform civil code.