This Article is written by Shivanshi Aggarwal, a student at Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Management Studies, GGSIPU
In India, there is a uniform criminal code which means that everyone will be treated similarly for the same crime irrespective of any community but there was not any uniform civil code which means that everyone will be treated as per their own religious and cultural norms when it comes to civil matters like marriage, maintenance, guardianship, adoption, divorce, succession and so on. While this difference was created due to religious boundaries women were not given equal rights as men. They were not considered at par with men. Thus to provide them with gender justice, equal rights, and equal opportunities there was a need to provide them with equal laws. In some cases women were not treated as same as men even in their own family, a married daughter was not given the same rights as of married son, in Muslims polygamy is allowed to men but not to women, men can at anytime leave their wives by saying Talaq thrice but women had no such power, men had no restrictions while going out of the house but women needed to cover their face by ghunghat or burkha and many more. Thus to provide no biases towards this gender Uniform Civil Code was adopted. Though it is only a fundamental duty that is it cannot be challenged in court but still it is the duty of the state to remove any difference a women faces.
Background of UCC
In 1840, Lex Loci Report was being framed by the British Government, based on that they framed a uniform criminal code that is for crimes, evidence, etc people were treated equally. But since there was the majority of Hindus and Muslims, some religious laws were also kept and the British judiciary treated people according to their religious beliefs. Thus many systems where women were suffering like Sati, Dahej, Triple Talaq, Polygamy, etc remained. But as BN Rao committee formed they found the need to codify Hindu Law in 1941. As society was advancing the legislation was increased. Hindu Succession Act was amended to bring equality among both genders but this was not sufficient. Judiciary pointed out certain times and highlighted the need to bring uniformity in all the communities to reduce confusion and biasness. Thus UCC was adopted as Section 44 of the Indian Constitution which says “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”. Certain legislative reforms show its implementation such as The Special Marriage Act, Hindu Women’s Right to Property Act, Hindu Inheritance ( Removal of Disabilities) Act, and many more.
Need of UCC
Since there were so many personal laws of different religions, there were many laws that were overlapping. If a country as a whole be looked upon and governed these overlapping laws were creating confusion and nuisance, hence UCC could become a great measure to bring uniformity. Also the personal laws brings a lot of clashes within the family, as today’s generation do not completely believe in old norms and hence generation gap creates a lot of different mindset, thus more modified and similar laws could stop a lot of litigation cases. Thirdly a country with less domestic clashes or less difference in opinion will be looked as an internally unite country by the world at large and thus country will be gaining a lot of power and reputation by other world leaders. Fourthly, what may be holy to one may be unholy to another community. For Example- Pork is treated as Haram in Muslim’s Holy Book Quran but Hindu’s do not consider eating pork as any sinful activity on the other hand cow is treated as God in Hindu community but the Muslims community can also perform cow slaughter. This can create rivalry between several communities. Hence to remove such ugly clashes UCC could be proved helpful. Also in one community some activities are extremely unethical and should be punished while other community may treat it as normal by which some may receive punishments and some may not which is biasness towards individuals for example cutting of holy trees such as Tulsi etc, women to be burned alive while husband’s funeral but men will not be and so on. Lastly, irrespective of any community country as a whole should be treated equally and all the communities are receiving resources equally should also be governed equally.
Goa could be seen as wonderful example of UCC. In Goa no community is treated as different or as per their personal laws even if it is related to their marriage or maintenance. Every citizen of Goa functions in accordance with same rule of law which applies to everyone. Thus they even got appraised by Supreme Court for being such a legendary example of Secularism. It outshined all the stereotypes and all the beliefs which keep an individual, community or country backwards. Goa is the only Indian state which has all the personal laws with uniformity and no citizen can act beyond the permitted laws.
Many renowned personalities supported UCC and gave statements towards it. To conclude some of them-
- Laxmi Menon- She brought the need to change the mindset of men’s of legislative assembly regarding women seeking divorce. They should not be considered a Hindu or Non-Hindu rather should be supported as measure to bring change in the society.
- Kofi Annan- He considered gender biasness to be the hurdle between poverty. Promoting self development and building good governance. In his opinion gender equality should be more than just a goal.
- Leila Seth- She was the first women Chief Justice of India. She considered some custom practices to be unfair and unjust with women and due to which women was not able to maintain her separate identity in the society. Thus UCC will help the women to be socially independent as well.
The judiciary showed its support towards UCC. The most important case was
Mohd. Ahmad Khan v. Shah Bano Begum and ors.
In this case Supreme Court interfered with the personal Muslim Laws. When Shah Bano was being asked by her husband to live separately after having five children, she seeks court at least to claim maintenance for herself and for her children. While the husband claimed that a Muslim man is only liable to provide maintenance for the iddat period but the court held that he should be liable to pay for his first wife and children even after the iddat period if the woman is unable to maintain herself under Section 125 of CrPC. This case was considered as landmark judgement since the women was treated as natural human being and not just a slave of her husband who could be left abandoned anytime without any obligations.
Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India
In this case, petitioner claimed that her husband married another woman by converting to Islam. He converted only to marry with second wife since polygamy is allowed in Islam. But the first wedding was according to Hindu Law and hence it should be considered illegal. The court also held that first marriage should be dissolved as per the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 in order to marry other women. Even if he converted to Islam the second marriage will be void and illegal as per Section 494 of IPC. This judgement proved to be important since it highlighted and implemented UCC as the two different religions were treated uniformly.
Ms. Jordan Diengdeh v. S.S. Chopra
In this case the marriage was solemnized between a Christian and a Sikh according to Indian Christian Marriage Act, 1872. When the petitioner demanded the marriage to be null the court dismissed its petition and showed the urgency and need of UCC in India. The facts show how difference in laws could provide a legal marriage to be null and void. If UCC could be implemented the marriage will hold its legal powers irrespective of any community differences. The court claimed that Article 44 is to safeguard the citizens of the country and it should be implemented without any delay.
Secularism is a basis of Indian Constitution. With the 42nd Amendment, secularism was added in the preamble which shows how much of importance it holds. But due to different religious and cultural laws secularism was lacking to prevail in the country. Also the condition of women was deteriorated due to such prevailing laws. The UCC was adopted with the aim to treat everyone with same rules and everyone should impose same obligations. UCC did not intended to remove any relevance or faith towards any religious beliefs or practices, it only aimed at bringing equality over all country members, everyone to bring under same roof. With the modernized and advanced society, no gender can be lacked back and cannot be treated any less and thus uniformity in civil matters as well could help a woman to gain her importance in the society. However constitution provides minorities certain freedom and rights which could be violative due to UCC. Also the essence of India which is diverse cultures will be affected due to the implementation of UCC.