Uniform Civil Code: History, Benefits and Concerns, UCC Bills

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Indian Government is considering the introduction of Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill during the monsoon session of Parliament. Then the bill may be referred to the parliamentary standing committee, which will seek input from various stakeholders on the matter of a uniform civil code. MBAUniverse.com presents a complete review of Uniform Civil Code, as it will be a hot topic in Group Discussions (GD) and Personal Interviews for MBA and other competitive exams. 

What is Uniform Civil Code?

Let’s start with the basics. Uniform Civil Code (UCC) refers to a set of common personal laws that would apply to all citizens of a country, regardless of their religion or faith. It aims to replace different personal laws based on religious practices and customs with a uniform set of laws governing matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption. The concept of a Uniform Civil Code is often associated with countries that have diverse religious and cultural communities like India. The objective behind implementing a UCC is to promote gender equality, social justice, and national integration by ensuring that all citizens are subject to the same set of laws and principles.  

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The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) calls for the formulation of one law for India, which would be applicable to all religious communities in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption. The code comes under Article 44 of the Constitution, which lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India.

 

The issue has been at the center of political debate for over a century and a key agenda for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which has been pushing for the legislation in Parliament. BJP was the first to promise the implementation of UCC if it comes to power and the issue was part of its 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto.

Which countries have implemented Uniform Civil Code?

Currently, there are few countries that have a comprehensive Uniform Civil Code (UCC) applicable to all its citizens. One of the most well-known civil codes in the world is that of France. The Napoleon Civil Code, introduced in France as early as 1804 - although the unification movement of existing civil law had begun more than a decade earlier - replaced more than 300 hundred local civil law codes.

 

In the United States, there are multiple layers of legislation that apply separately to the nation, the state and the county, or to agencies and cities. States are independent legal entities with their own Supreme Courts, which follow their own practices and legal conventions. Even though there are common principles that govern these civil laws in the States in a manner that is universal across the nation. Only issues of a federal nature or those affecting the country as a whole, such as security, taxation, general legal issues, etc., are dealt with by the Federal Supreme Court. 

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Most countries of the Islamic faith have traditionally adopted Sharia law, derived from religious teachings, practises and traditions, often interpreted by qualified jurists of the faith. As a result, Islamic countries in the world usually have a combination of civil laws based on traditional Sharia law, and countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria, etc. are examples of this.

What is Article 44 - Why is it important?

The objective of Article 44 of the Directive Principles in the Indian Constitution was to address the discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise diverse cultural groups across the country. Dr. B R Ambedkar, while formulating the Constitution had said that a UCC is desirable but for the moment it should remain voluntary, and thus the Article 35 of the draft Constitution was added as a part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy in part IV of the Constitution of India as Article 44. It was incorporated in the Constitution as an aspect that would be fulfilled when the nation would be ready to accept it and the social acceptance to the UCC could be made. Ambedkar in his speech in the Constituent Assembly had said, "No one need be apprehensive that if the State has the power, the State will immediately proceed to execute…that power in a manner may be found to be objectionable by the Muslims or by the Christians or by any other community. I think it would be a mad government if it did so."

Origin of Uniform Civil Code

The origin of the UCC dates back to colonial India when the British government submitted its report in 1835 stressing the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, and contracts, specifically recommending that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims be kept outside such codification. Increase in legislations dealing with personal issues in the far end of the British rule forced the government to form the B N Rau Committee to codify Hindu law in 1941. The task of the Hindu Law Committee was to examine the question of the necessity of common Hindu laws. The committee, in accordance with scriptures, recommended a codified Hindu law, which would give equal rights to women. The 1937 Act was reviewed and the committee recommended a civil code of marriage and succession for Hindus.

What is the Hindu Code Bill?

 The draft of the Rau Committee report was submitted to a select committee chaired by B R Ambedkar that came up for discussion in 1951 after the adoption of the Constitution. While discussions continued, the Hindu Code Bill lapsed and was resubmitted in 1952. The bill was then adopted in 1956 as the Hindu Succession Act to amend and codify the law relating to intestate or unwilled succession, among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs. The Act reformed the Hindu personal law and gave women greater property rights, and ownership. It gave women property rights in their father's estate.

 

The general rules of succession under the Act 1956 for a male who dies intestate is that heirs in Class I succeed in preference to heirs in other classes. An amendment to the Act in the year 2005 added more descendants elevating females to Class I heirs. The daughter is allotted the same share as is allotted to a son.

Difference between Civil Laws, Criminal Laws and Personal Laws

 While the criminal laws in India are uniform and applicable equally on all, no matter what their religious beliefs are, the civil laws are influenced by faith. Influenced by religious texts, the personal laws which come into effect in civil cases have always been implemented according to constitutional norms. 

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Laws that apply to a certain group of people based on their religion, caste, faith, and belief made after due consideration of customs and religious texts. The personal laws of Hindus and Muslims find their source and authority in their religious ancient texts. In Hinduism, personal laws are applicable to legal issues related to inheritance, succession, marriage, adoption, co-parenting, obligations of sons to pay their father’s debts, the partition of family property, maintenance, guardianship, and charitable donations. In Islam, personal laws apply to matters relating to inheritance, wills, succession, legacies, marriage, wakfs, dowry, guardianship, divorce, gifts, and pre-emption taking roots from Quran.

Significance of Shah Bano case

The conflict surrounding the issue of Uniform Civil Code witnessed a decrease over time, but resurfaced with the landmark Shah Bano case in 1985. Shah Bano, a 73-year-old woman, sought maintenance from her husband after being divorced through the practice of triple Talaaq, which is permitted under Muslim Personal Law but is considered discriminatory against women. Initially, a local court granted her maintenance in 1980, but her husband, Muhammad Ahmad Khan, challenged the decision in the Supreme Court, arguing that he had fulfilled his obligations under Islamic law. However, in 1985, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Shah Bano under the provision of the All-India Criminal Code that addresses the maintenance of wives, children, and parents, applicable to all citizens regardless of religion. The court also recommended the implementation of a uniform civil code. This case was significant as it highlighted the issue of maintenance for Muslim women and raised calls for a uniform set of laws governing personal matters.

What are the benefits of implementing Uniform Civil Code?

Implementing a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) can bring several benefits. Here are three key points summarizing the advantages:

  1. Equality and Justice: A UCC promotes equality and justice by providing a common set of laws that are applicable to all citizens, irrespective of their religious background. It eliminates discriminatory practices embedded in personal laws and ensures equal rights and protection for individuals, particularly women, across different religious communities. This helps create a more inclusive and equitable society.
  2. Social Cohesion and National Integration: A UCC fosters social cohesion and national integration by promoting a sense of unity among diverse religious and cultural communities. It encourages a shared identity and common values, contributing to a stronger sense of national unity. By harmonizing personal laws, a UCC can bridge gaps and reduce divisions based on religion, fostering a cohesive and inclusive society.
  3. Women's Empowerment and Gender Justice: A UCC can play a significant role in empowering women and ensuring gender justice. By eliminating discriminatory practices embedded in personal laws, it provides equal rights and opportunities to women in areas such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and property rights. This helps address gender inequalities and promotes women's empowerment, enabling them to exercise their rights and participate fully in social, economic, and political spheres.
  4. Simplification and Efficiency: Implementing a UCC simplifies the legal framework by replacing multiple sets of personal laws with a single unified code. This streamlines legal processes, reduces complexities, and enhances the efficiency of the legal system. It can also facilitate ease of doing business and provide a more predictable legal environment for individuals, businesses, and organizations.

What are the concerns against implementing Uniform Civil Code in India.

There are several concerns raised against the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India. Here are three key points summarizing the concerns:

  • Religious Freedom and Cultural Autonomy: One of the primary concerns is that a UCC may infringe upon religious freedom and cultural autonomy. India is a diverse country with multiple religious communities, each with its own set of personal laws and practices. Critics argue that imposing a uniform code may undermine the rights of religious minorities and erode their distinct cultural identities.
  • Preservation of Pluralism and Diversity: Opponents argue that a UCC might undermine the country's pluralistic fabric and cultural diversity. India is known for its rich heritage and traditions, and personal laws have historically been influenced by specific religious beliefs and customs. Critics contend that preserving this diversity is important for maintaining social harmony and respecting the rights of different communities.
  • Implementation Challenges and Resistance: Implementing a UCC is a complex task due to the diverse religious and cultural landscape of India. There may be significant resistance from religious groups and conservative factions who perceive the code as a threat to their customs and practices. Overcoming these implementation challenges and achieving widespread acceptance can be a formidable task.
  • Potential Disruption and Social Unrest: Critics of a UCC argue that its implementation could lead to social unrest and conflict. The personal laws governing marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other aspects of personal life are deeply ingrained in religious and cultural practices. Any sudden and drastic changes to these laws could disrupt established norms, potentially leading to social tension and unrest.

The implementation of a Uniform Civil Code is a complex and sensitive issue, often intertwined with political, social, and religious considerations. It requires careful deliberation, consensus-building, and consideration of diverse perspectives to strike a balance between individual rights, cultural diversity, and the principles of equality and justice.

 

As Indian Government considers to introduce Uniform Civil Code (UCC), it is important to seek input from various stakeholders on the matter. MBAUniverse.com has reviewed Uniform Civil Code as it promises to be an important topic in Group Discussions (GD) and Personal Interviews for MBA and other competitive exams. Hope you found it useful!  

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