Uniform Civil Code - The great divide

Lately there has been a lot of discussion about uniform civil code. And the discussion keeps popping up from time to time. Lot of the discussion happen without even understanding what does uniform civil code mean.

Article 44 of the Constitution of India states that

The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.

Now there it is in writing and it is often argued, why has it not been implemented when the constitution clearly states that?

How different are the laws for different communities?

Going by the intensity of the discussion around it seems that India has completely different laws for hindu, muslims, christians etc. While it is true that there are different laws but to what extent and for what category? It is difficult to say what % of laws are common to everybody in India but according to this article 99% of the laws in India apply to everybody.

The heated debate on Common Civil Code that one comes across today makes it appear that the greatest problem faced by India is nothing but the lack of a Common Civil Code. Political propaganda has obscured the fact that the rest 99 % of the laws in the country is ‘common’ for all and it hasn’t made any difference.

So if 99% of the law is common then what is different that needs a UCC? The controversy is about ‘codification of personal laws’.Personal laws imply laws relating to family like marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption etc. The discussions that I have had with many people often goes in the direction as if it is something to do only with the muslims and they somehow have a special privilege compared to others. This is not true. Every religion has its own laws that they want to preserve. A quick look at the wikipedia entry reveals the following…

Each and every religion does not want to lose its right to practice religious laws. Here are a few quick facts for you to understand the problem:

  • In Muslim personal law, they are allowed to have four wives, can give divorce by saying talaq three times, and after divorce the ex-husband is not responsible for ex-wife’s maintanace.
  • In Hindu inheritance rights, sons, and not daughters, can inherit the property. Or that a wife has fewer rights than her in-laws over her husband’s property, but a husband has more rights than his in-laws over his wife’s property.
  • In Christian law; a husband can get a divorce on grounds of adultery, while a wife has to prove adultery and cruelty.
  • Christians are not allowed from willing property for charitable and religious purposes (Section 118 of the Indian Succession Act).
  • In Islam, polygamy is permissible but not in other religions. According to the government statistics, only 5.2% Muslim men are polygamous while 5.8% Hindus, 9% Scheduled Caste, and 14% tribals have more than one wife.
  • In Punjab it is a common practice that all brothers marry one woman so that their property is not divided, and it is permissible by the Indian constitution.
  • Currently, Hindus, themselves, have different Hindu Personal Laws in every state of India. It will be a good start if Hindus have a Hindu Personal Law that is uniform for all Hindus in every state across the country.
  • A Sikh is allowed to carry a dagger (Kripan); if others carry it, they will be arrested by the police.
  • There is separate tax system for Hindu undivided families not for non-Hindu undivided families (Hindu Undivided Family code).

Most of the controversies related to UCC involve muslims and that is because their personal is the most visible in our society. I for one support the implementation of the UCC. There are many who support UCC as a reactionary step but I will dwelve into my reasons to support in a bit.

Do we already have a Uniform Civil Code?

Some argue that India already has a uniform civil code and this is true to a great extent. India has passed the Special Marriage Act according to which none of the restrictions of the personal law apply. The requirement howver is that one has to specifically choose to get married under the act. Meaning when a person gets married he can do so under any act i.e. the Hindu Marriage Act, Muslim Personal Law or the Special Marriage act.

Note that not every muslim is opposed to the idea of UCC and not every hindu is for it. But one wonders how many proponents of the UCC have their marriages registered under the SPA.

My Stand on UCC

As I have said before, I am for the implementation of UCC and that implementation can come in two modes. One where the parliament enacts a law and the other is where every community undergo reforms to make the laws fair. I am open to both. The only problem with the second one is that every community will take its own sweet time to come up with the reforms.

My main gripe against lack of UCC is the condition of women. In each of the personal law and in every community it is the women that are at a disadvantage. No community has worked at a satisfactory pace to improve that and hence I think the govt. cannot just sit on the side and let that happen. Empowered women in a society bring a big change. Like the say educate a man and he learns, educate a woman and the whole family learns. All the personal laws are so heavily biased against women that it will take ages to come out of it unless the govt intervenes. Communities are doing their bit although at a very slow pace. The formation of Women MPL was a step in that direction.

Some argue that we should not have UCC just to maintain the diversity that India has. The argument has merit and in an ideal case I would love to have that. But given the current scenario the logic to maintain diversity at the cost of women is not acceptable.

I have had many a discussions and here is one. Even though I support UCC, I don’t think that the lack of it is the biggest problem that India faces.

cross posted here