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A uniform civil code (UCC) is a proposed set of laws that aims to replace personal laws based on religious customs and traditions with a common set of civil laws applicable to all citizens of a country, irrespective of their religious or cultural background. It is intended to provide a standardized legal framework in matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, and succession.

In countries with diverse religious and cultural communities, like India, personal laws governing these aspects often vary based on one’s religious affiliation. For example, in India, different personal laws exist for Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and other religious groups. This has led to disparities in rights, practices, and legal protections for individuals belonging to different communities.

Advocates of a uniform civil code argue that it promotes equality, secularism, and social justice by treating all citizens equally under the law, regardless of their religious background. They believe that a uniform set of civil laws will eliminate discriminatory practices, protect individual rights, and promote gender equality.

The Constitution and the Code

The Constitution of India, in Article 44 under the Directive Principles of State Policy, mentions the uniform civil code as a goal to be pursued by the state. The Directive Principles of State Policy are a set of guidelines for the government to follow in the governance of the country.

Article 44 of the Indian Constitution states: “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”

This provision suggests that the Indian government should work towards implementing a uniform civil code to replace the personal laws that currently govern various religious communities in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other civil matters.

The Code and the Controversy

The topic of a uniform civil code in India is highly controversial due to a combination of historical, social, religious, and political factors.


Grounds for Divorce

There are certain parallels and variances in the ways that “marriage” is defined, solemnised, recorded, and can be dissolved among the many codified laws.

For instance, in Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Parsi marriage laws, adultery is a valid reason for divorce, but the definitions vary.

In order to get a divorce from her spouse under Christian law, a woman must demonstrate both cruelty and adultery. Unless it can be demonstrated that the husband engaged in adultery with “women of vile reputation” or leads an infamous life,” adultery is not regarded by Muslim law as a reason for a woman to obtain a divorce.

Hindu law permits divorce for adultery, but not for adultery alone; the woman must also show cruelty or abandonment in order to obtain a divorce. Contrarily, Parsi law permits both partners to file for divorce due to adultery.

Read More: The Most Controversial Laws In The Indian Constitution

Desertion and Abandonment

Varied religions have varied time limits for when a wife can file for divorce after her husband has abandoned her. Muslims permit four years, whereas Hindus allow two. Seven years of desertion are required under the Parsi Marriage Act and the Indian Marriage Act in order to seek a divorce.

Sikhs’ marriages are governed under the Anand Marriage Act which does not recognise divorce and adoption.

Age of Consent

Hindu law regards marriage between a 16-year-old girl and an 18-year-old male as lawful but voidable even though the Indian Age of Majority Act, Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, and the POCSO Act forbid the marriage of those under 18.

In India, Muslim law recognizes the legality of a minor’s marriage after the child reaches puberty. However, even among Muslims, Hanafi Sunnis believe that both sexes reach puberty at the age of 15, whereas Shias believe that a boy reaches puberty at the age of 15 and a girl does so at nine or ten.

Here are some key reasons why it remains a contentious issue:

Religious and Cultural Diversity: India is a diverse country with multiple religions, each having its own set of personal laws. Personal laws based on religious customs and traditions have been in practice for a long time, and they are deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of various communities. Any attempt to impose a uniform civil code is viewed by some as a threat to their religious and cultural identity.

Protection of Minority Rights: Critics argue that implementing a uniform civil code could potentially undermine the rights and practices of religious and cultural minority communities. They believe that personal laws provide a means for these communities to protect their distinctive practices, traditions, and values. Any move towards a uniform civil code is seen as a potential encroachment on their rights and an imposition of majoritarian values.

Gender Equality Concerns: Proponents of a uniform civil code argue that it would promote gender equality by eliminating discriminatory practices present in some personal laws. They contend that personal laws, especially those pertaining to divorce, inheritance, and maintenance, often disadvantage women.

However, opponents argue that a uniform civil code may not necessarily guarantee gender equality and that reforms within personal laws specific to each religious community would be a better approach.

Political Considerations: The topic of a uniform civil code has often been used as a political tool by different parties and interest groups. Political parties may take varying positions on the issue to appeal to their respective voter bases, further fueling the controversy and making it a sensitive subject during election campaigns.

Constitutional Interpretation: There is ongoing debate regarding the interpretation of Article 44 of the Indian Constitution and its intent. Some argue that it is a directive principle that provides flexibility for the state to implement a uniform civil code gradually and in consultation with religious communities, while others believe it mandates the immediate enactment of a uniform civil code.

Where do you stand with the implementation of UCC? Let us know in the comments below.

Image Credits: Google Images

Feature Image designed by Saudamini Seth

Sources: India Today, The Economic Times, Business Standard

Find the blogger: Pragya Damani

This post is tagged under: uniform civil code, ucc, ucc controversy, ucc constitution, controversy, constitution

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