Uniform civil code
A uniform civil code administers the same set of secular civil laws to govern all people irrespective of their religion, caste and tribe. The need for such a code takes in to account the constitutional mandate of securing justice and equality for all citizens. A uniform criminal code is applicable to all citizens irrespective of religion, caste, gender and domicile in our country. But a similar code pertaining to marriage, divorce, succession and other family matters has not been brought in to effect. The personal laws vary widely in their sources, philosophy and application. Therefore, there is an inherent difficulty and resistance in bringing people together and unifying them when different religions and personal laws govern them.
During the post-colonial period, the framers of the Indian Constitution envisaged a uniform civil code governing the personal laws in the country and thereby incorporated Article 44 in Part IV of the Indian Constitution in furtherance of the Directive Principles of State Policy. Thereby, making it incumbent on the state to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code thought-out the territory of India. The directive principle embodied under Article 44 of the Constitution is aimed at gradually achieving, rather than at once, far reaching equality for all citizens.
The Preamble to the Constitution resolves to constitute a ‘Secular Democratic Republic.’ Which in effect means that there shall be no state religion and the state shall not discriminate on the basis of religion. The personal laws of each religion, which is comprised of separate ingredients and founded on distinct ideologies, the uniform civil code must strike a balance between the protection of fundamental rights and religious principles of different communities. Marriage, divorce, succession etc. can be matters of a secular nature, which the law can regulate. Therefore, a uniform codified law, which will subsume all religions in relation to the personal laws governing different communities, should be necessitated.
Supreme Court of India on Uniform Civil Code
The Supreme Court for the first time directed the parliament to frame a Uniform Civil Code in 1985 in the case of Mohd Ahmed Khan v Shah Bano Begum. In Sarla Mudgal v Union of India 1995, Justice Kuldip Singh reiterated the need for the Parliament to frame a Uniform Civil Code, which would help the cause of national integration by removing contradictions based on ideologies. Therefore, the responsibility entrusted on the State under Article 44 of the Constitution whereby a Uniform Civil Code must be secured has been urged by the Supreme Court repeatedly as a matter of urgency.
Need of a Uniform Civil Code
A uniform civil code is of an absolute necessity for individuals belonging to different religions and denominations and it is imperative for the promotion of national unity and solidarity. Thus, divergent religious ideologies must merge and culminate in to common and unified principles and objectives, adhering to the true spirit of secularism. However, after more than 60 years of independence the aspiration of a Uniform Civil Code remains unrealized.
The idea and principle of having a uniform civil code, governing personal laws is to treat every person equally and also so that just, fair and predictable laws protect everyone. Moreover, a uniform civil code would put in place a set of laws that would govern personal matters of all citizens irrespective of religion, which is the cornerstone of secularism. It would enable to put an end to gender discrimination on religious grounds, strengthen the secular fabric and also promote unity. From Shah Bano to Shayara Bano who recently filed a PIL in the Supreme Court the emphasis has always been on gender friendly reforms of personal laws.
Therefore, given the current political and social scenario, the more progressive and liberal sections are demanding for a uniform civil code, which would govern individuals across all religions, caste and tribe uniformly, and also protect their fundamental and constitutional rights. Whether it would be the endeavor of the state, the mandate of the court or the will of the people is a pertinent issue which only time will enfold.
The Discussions on Uniform Civil Code
There have been many debates, articles, discussions, contradictions but neither our political leaders, nor individuals have concentrated their efforts towards realisation of the Uniform Civil Code in India. The common knowledge about this system includes a common law understanding of the concept of marriage, succession or property and everyone’s guessing what exactly these laws will be. Article 44 of the Constitution of India states that “The State shall endeavour to secure the citizen a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India”. Thus, we can safely say that even the Constitution says that establishing the UCC is the only way to achieve national integration. However these are just “Directive Principles” and are not enforceable in any court of law under Article 37 of the Constitution. Though these can be regarded as the fundamentals of governance, the Constitution itself is unclear of its stand about the implementation of UCC which it does not make mandatory. Though the exact contours of such a uniform code have not been spelt out, it should presumably incorporate the most modern and progressive aspects of all existing personal laws while discarding those which are retrograde.
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