Updated: Aug 31, 2021
In the question of a Goan domicile's succession and inheritance being governed by the Portuguese Civil Code, 1867 or the Indian Succession Act of 1925, the Supreme Court held that :“The Constitution in Article 44 requires the State to strive to secure for its citizens a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) throughout India, but till date, no action has been taken in this regard.”
The Hindu personal laws were codified in 1956. However, there has been no attempt to frame a Uniform Civil Code applicable to all citizens of the country. Despite exhortations of this Court in the case of Shah Bano in 1985, the government has done nothing to bring the Uniform Civil Code. The Supreme Court hailed the State of Goa as a “shining example” where a “uniform civil code” is applicable to all, regardless of religion except while protecting certain limited rights.
Justice Prathiba Maninder Singh, who passed the judgment observed that courts have been repeatedly confronted with the conflicts that arise in personal laws.
"People belonging to various communities, castes, and religions, who forge marital bonds, struggle with such conflict...The youth of India belonging to various communities, tribes, castes, or religions who solemnise their marriages ought not to be forced to struggle with issues arising due to conflicts in various personal laws," commented Justice Singh on the matter.
The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) essentially refers to a common set of laws governing personal matters such as marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance, and succession for all citizens of the country, irrespective of their religion. Currently, different laws regulate these aspects for adherents of different religions and a UCC is meant to do away with these inconsistent personal laws.
The origin of the UCC dates back to the pre-independence era when the British government, in a report submitted in 1835, stressed "the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, and contracts", and insisted that "personal laws of Hindus and Muslims be kept outside such codification."
An increase in legislation dealing with personal issues in the far end of 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.
UCC had been in BJP's manifesto since 1998. It was also included in the 2019 elections and was even proposed for introduction in parliament for the first time in November 2019 by Narayan Lal Panchariya. Amid protests by other MPs, the bill was withdrawn for making certain amendments. The bill was brought for a second time by Kirodi Lal Meena in March 2020 but was not introduced again. As per reports that emerged in 2020, the bill is being contemplated in BJP due to differences with RSS.
A plea was filed in Delhi high court which sought the establishment of a judicial commission or a high-level expert committee to direct the central government to prepare a draft of UCC in three months. In April 2021, a request was filed to transfer the plea to Supreme Court (SC) so that filing of more such pleas throughout various high courts doesn't bring inconsistency throughout India. The draft will further be published on the website for 60 days to facilitate extensive public debate and feedback.
In the modern era, a secular democratic republic should have common civil and personal laws for its citizens irrespective of their religion, class, caste, gender etc. It is commonly observed that personal laws of almost all religions are discriminatory towards women. Men are usually granted preferential status in matters of succession and inheritance. Uniform civil code will bring both men and women at par.
A contemporary India is a totally new society with 55% of its population below 25 years of age. Their social attitudes and aspirations are shaped by universal and global principles of equality, humanity, and modernity. Their view of shedding identity on the basis of any religion has to be given serious consideration so as to utilize their full potential towards nation-building. Efforts should be focused on harmony in plurality rather than blanket uniformity for flourishing Indian democracy.
Hence, to overcome disparities caused due to the lack of a uniform and equal policy that must be obeyed by all in the face of an ever-changing generation that isn’t merely constricted by religion and caste for the basis of wedlock, a uniform personal law on the same may even out inequalities.
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