Uniform Civil Code: To have or to not have?

A brief introduction

World is full of strange and bizarre incidents, which may sound funny on the surface but as we delve deeper we realise their gravity. Assam witnessed one such bizarre acts of human behaviour in April earlier this year during the polling season. As per reports, a Muslim lady in Donam Addahati village, Sonitpur district, was slapped a talaq (divorce) by her husband as she refused to vote for the Congress and voted for the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) instead; defying the diktat (passed by the elders of the village) to vote for the Congress.

“Dilwara Begum has been married to Ainuddin for ten years and they were living a decent life. But when she refused to vote for the Congress and defy the diktat passed by the village elders, Ainuddin got angry and gave her divorce and as we know in Islam the husband just has to utter talaq thrice for divorce,” says Swapan Kumar Kar, a Tezpur-based journalist.

“This divorce system is creating serious inequality. This is a prime example of a personal law. The triple talaq system in Islam is one of the prime reasons why we now have a debate on Uniform Civil Code,” Kar adds on.

In a gist

UCC (Uniform Civil Code) is a proposal to replace the ‘personal laws’, which are based on the scriptures and customs of each major religious community in the country with a common set governing every citizen. These laws are beyond the ambit of public laws and they cover marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance.

In India, the Article 44 of the Directive Principles implements the Uniform Civil Code and according to this article, “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” But, even then UCC and its implementation has not been a reality in the country as because the Directive Principles are only guidelines and it is not mandatory to use them.

The aforementioned incident of Dilwara Begum is just one example out of many, where personal laws have trampled equality and dignity to which every man is entitled to. To vote or not to vote is a personal choice and there should not be any imposition of any sorts. Firstly, it was wrong on the part of the elders to pass a diktat and secondly the divorce was far more sickening.

“Yes, the triple talaq system has been considered as a crime, but still it is unchangeable. These are not my words but of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and these were stated in September 2015,” Kar concludes.

In the existence of many more such personal laws in every single religion, it becomes all very important that India introduces UCC at the earliest but…

India, as a nation, has developed tremendously economically but when we talk about social and cultural development, we are still lagging behind in time and in reality we have degraded to such a point where we can neither call ourselves modern nor traditional.

If we take pride in claiming ourselves secular, then here we must realise that secularism makes citizens follow a uniform civil code- irrespective of the religion they may belong to.

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SC declined the parliament to form UCC (Image courtesy: Google)

Blast from the past

Taking a leaf out of history, here it is worth mentioning that it was during the British rule when for the first time personal laws were framed and these were framed mainly for the Hindu and the Muslims citizens. The demand for a uniform civil code is not new as the first demand was put forward by women activists in the beginning of the twentieth century. This was done with an objective of demanding equal rights for women as historically it has been observed that women (irrespective of religion) are the worst victims of the existent personal laws.

In 1956, the Indian Parliament passed Hindu Code Bill amidst significant opposition. A demand for a uniform civil code was made by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru but what was finally accepted was a ‘compromised’ directive.

“The hurdles in India, which has stopped the implementation of a uniform civil code, are some myths! Those who have been opposing its introduction believe that UCC will mean only imposition of Hindu laws and this is absolutely incorrect. Uniform civil code only means uniformity in personal laws and it will be a neutral law that will have nothing to do with religion,” says Guwahati-based advocate Bikram Sarmah.

“Secondly it is thought that UCC will take away ones freedom of religion. But the fact is that the freedom of religion, which has been granted as Fundamental right under the Constitution, will remain so,” Sarmah adds on.

“Some further say that implementation of UCC in a secular country is ‘impossible’, but the fact they have failed to understand that UCC is an absolute necessity of a true secular country,” Sarmah concludes.

On December 5, 2015, the Supreme Court of India in a verdict declined to direct the Parliament to form Uniform Civil Code stating that the issue is outside its realm. This, in fact, has come as a setback to the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre as the party’s one of the important promises during the 2014 election campaign was the formation and implementation of UCC.

“I think the Supreme Court has taken the right decision as the implementation of UCC means that the minorities in the country will lose their religious identity and being a secular country, every individual from every community- especially the minorities- should enjoy the right to follow their own religion, culture and customs under Article 29 and 30. The issue is not just about Hindus and Muslims, but the debate covers a wide range of religious minorities,” says Shahin Khurshid, a final year law student.

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UCC leads to a lot of gender inequality (Image courtesy: Google)

Rational view

There are different arguments from various scholars on the UCC issue. If some favours it, an equal section however is also against it. But what has been observed from various case studies is that the people of India by and large are demanding for a UCC.

A survey carried out by the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan in 2015 found that a majority of Muslim women favour an end to triple talaq and instead want codification of Muslim law. The survey conducted among 4710 Muslim women from 10 states reveals that 92 per cent women want a ban on triple talaq, 93 per cent want a legal framework instead of triple talaq, and 91.7 per cent women don’t want their husbands to marry more than once.

The basic idea behind uniform civil code is to end discrimination based on gender and religion and most of the countries have a UCC applicable to all the citizens. It is high time that India wakes up to take the call. It is the right time for the communities to come together and spin their heads together and move forward towards in formulating UCC. There needs to be more awareness among the masses and the entire idea behind UCC must be informed and explained with utmost clarity. Illiteracy and ignorance are two of the main reasons because of which a consensus has not been developed in the issue so far. Uniform Civil Code will bring in equality of gender and thus help the society to progress.

(The article has been published in the June issue of Good Times of North East)

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