Written By Darshan M (Grade 10)
In 1948, when the constitution was being framed and the values of pluralism were being discussed, one social reform became a bone of contention it divided the Constituent Assembly they debated for months but couldn’t reach a consensus and finally, they compromised.
The Uniform Civil Code (UCC), is one civil code common to all. It would have meant the abolition of personal laws that is laws based on scriptures and religious texts that regulate aspects of live including marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption.
A lot of these laws were discriminatory and unfair to minority groups and women. The Sharia law had provisions that deprived women of inheritance, and certain Hindu customs deprive women of remarriage. The Constituent Assembly wanted to abolish or limit such laws and wanted to govern all of India India by the same laws, such that they apply equally to all citizens irrespective of religion or caste.
One nation, one law. That was the objective. But, it wasn’t to be. Why was the UCC wasn’t adopted in the constitution?
You see India was a diverse and vast country, conscious of the chaos of religions, ethnicities, customs, and social structures. To unify such a country under one law was seen as a tough task at that time and there was immense opposition to the UCC both from Islamic fundamentalists and orthodox Hindus. They felt that this would diminish their authority and they called it a threat to religious freedom. They issued warnings of social unrest in the country. So, the founding fathers of our Constitution retreated and added a directive principle in article 44 that says “The state shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India”. Therefore, the UCC remained a dead letter, they decided to implement it when India was ready to accept it. Seven decades have passed it’s still controversial.
Is it time for India to have one law for all citizens?
States in northeast India like Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya aren’t governed by the mainstream laws. They make their laws based on their customs and practices, no matter how archaic they may be. And these laws are said to preserve the distinct cultures of these states. The Quran determines certain personal laws for Muslims in India, mostly related to marriage, inheritance, divorce, and custody of children. Women’s right to inherit property is determined by Sharia and even her right to adopt a child. All of this leaves women at the mercy of the Muslim Personal Law Board. Unfortunately for India tensions continued even after independence.
Since independence, there have been many Shabanos, many court battles over personal laws and many petitions for a UCC, but no government has been able to implement it. Election after election, the BJP has promised to include the best provisions of different personal laws from different religions. They have been in power for 8 years and are still committed to implementing the UCC.
Critics say that this is a move towards secularism that would target India’s muslims, political and religious groups, and even the tribal communities from the northeast they say that it is a conspiracy to impose majority Hindu views over minorities. Many Islamic countries across the world have reformed personal laws like Turkey, Morocco, Tunisia, and Jordan. They all have codified personal laws as per their constitution.
If Muslim countries can reform personal laws, if western democracies can follow a common civil code, why are Indians living under laws passed before independence? It is time to put an end to all of this and unite India under one law.
Featured Image Courtesy – Times of India