Uttarakhand to be first state to implement Uniform Civil Code: Explaining what this means for India

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Pushkar Singh Dhami is a man of his words. On Thursday, a day after he was sworn-in, the Uttarakhand chief minister announced the formation of a committee of experts on the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the state.

"The state cabinet unanimously approved that a committee (of experts) will be constituted at the earliest and it will implemented in the state. This will be the first state to do so," Dhami indicated.

During the campaigning for the Assembly polls, Pushkar Singh Dhami promised to implement the Uniform Civil Code in the state.

Dhami had then said that the UCC would provide for equal laws on subjects such as marriage, divorce, land, property, and inheritance issues for people, irrespective of their faith and religion.

“The security of cultural and religious heritage of Uttarakhand, security of its environment and its borders is important not just for the state but the entire country. With that, soon after our oath-taking ceremony, the upcoming BJP government will form a committee of those with knowledge of the legal system, retired employees, prominent people from society, and other stakeholders. This committee will prepare a draft of the UCC for the people of Uttarakhand. This UCC will be for equal laws on subjects such as marriage, divorce, land, property and inheritance issues for people of all religions,” Dhami had said.

With Uttarakhand trying to implement the UCC in the hill state, here’s a simple guide to understanding what is Uniform Civil Code and its implications if realised.

What is Uniform Civil Code?

Uniform Civil Code means one law for the entire country, applicable to all religious communities in their personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption.

For those who don’t know, as of now, Hindus have their own laws on marriage, while Muslims are governed by their own personal laws. Similarly, Catholics and Parsis are governed by their own personal laws.

The code comes under Article 44 of the Constitution — one of the Directive Principles of State Policy — which lays down that the State shall endeavour to secure a Uniform Civil Code for the citizens throughout the territory of India. Simply put, this means that the vision of Uniform Civil Code is enshrined in the Indian Constitution as a goal towards which the nation should strive, but it isn’t a fundamental right or a Constitutional guarantee.

Dr B R Ambedkar, while formulating the Constitution had said that a UCC is desirable but for the moment it should remain voluntary.

Also read: The planned Udupi hijab spark and the need for Uniform Civil Code

Origins of UCC and demand for it in India

The first call for UCC goes back to colonial India when the British government in 1835 submitted a report stressing the need for uniformity in Indian laws.

In 1985, the demand for UCC came to the fore in the judgment pronounced in the Shah Bano Case. Shah Bano had moved the apex court seeking maintenance after her husband divorced her after 40 years of marriage by giving triple talaq and denied her regular maintenance.

The Supreme Court had noted then: "It is a matter of regret that Article 44 has remained a dead letter... Common civil code will help the cause of national integration by removing desperate loyalties to laws, which have conflicting ideologies. No community is likely to bell the cat by making gratuitous concessions on this issue. It is for the State, which is charged with the duty of securing a uniform civil code and it has legislative competence to do so."

The BJP has been a strong advocate of it. In fact, in 2019 it was part of the BJP's election manifesto.

Pros and cons of UCC

Experts note that a UCC would provide equal status to all citizens irrespective of the community they belong to. They opine that a UCC could lead to consistency and gender equality when it comes to personal laws, and usher in some much-needed reforms.

However, some note that while it could go a long way in enforcing equality, it could also be in contravention of Article 25 (Right to Freedom of Religion).

Practising personal laws is one way a citizen of India exercises their right to religion. Some constitutional and society experts believe that with a UCC, this right could be eroded and minority communities could feel threatened as the culture in India would be homogenised.

Uttarakhand to follow Goa’s example?

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said that Uttarakhand would be the first state to implement the UCC. However, it is important to note that Goa has been following the Portuguese Civil Code, 1867 which is also called Uniform Civil Code.

The Goa Civil Code is not strictly a Uniform Civil Code as it has specific provisions for certain communities.
For example, Hindu men have the right to bigamy under specific circumstances mentioned in Codes of Usages and Customs of Gentile Hindus of Goa (if the wife fails to deliver a child by the age of 25, or if she fails to deliver a male child by the age of 30). For other communities, the law prohibits bigamy.

But, it does set a precedence of what the implementation of a UCC would look like. As former Chief Justice of India Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde had said in March 2021, “Goa has what Constitutional framers envisaged for India - a Uniform Civil Code. And I have had the great privilege of administering justice under that Code. It applies in marriage and succession, governing all Goans irrespective of religious affiliation.”

With inputs from agencies

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Uttarakhand to be first state to implement Uniform Civil Code: Explaining what this means for India
Uttarakhand to be first state to implement Uniform Civil Code: Explaining what this means for India
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