Modi Govt seeks Public views on Uniform Civil Code: Is it the Right Time to enact UCC?

The Law Commission of India (LCI) Wednesday issued a public notice to solicit views and opinions on the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). According to the notice, the “public at large” and “recognized religious organizations” can send their views about the UCC within 30 days. Submissions can also be made in the form of consultations/discussions or working papers on any of the issues pertaining to the code.

“If need be, the commission may call upon any individual or organization for a personal hearing or discussion,” read the notice issued by the 22nd Law Commission of India headed by retired Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi.

The 22nd Law Commission of India decided again to solicit views and ideas of the public at large and recognized religious organizations about the Uniform Civil Code. Those who are interested and willing may present their views within a period of 30 days from the date of notice.

What is Uniform Civil code?

The Uniform Civil Code is a directive principle under the Constitution, is meant to be a single set of personal laws that would apply to all citizens equally. Uniform Civil Code resonates with one country one rule, to be applied to all religious communities. The term, ‘Uniform Civil Code’ is explicitly mentioned in Part 4, Article 44 of the Indian Constitution. Article 44 says, “The State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”

A Uniform Civil Code must apply on all sections of the society irrespective of their religion and caste. It ensures that all people are treated equally according to a national civil code, which shall be applicable to all uniformly. UCC covers aspects like- Marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance, adoption and succession of the property. It is based on the premise that there is no connection between religion and law in modern civilization.

It is one of the widely debated topic lately since the first petition was filed in 2019 to seek for framing of a UCC to promote national integration and gender justice, equality, and dignity of women.

Enacting UCC has been a long-standing agenda of the BJP and its ideological fountainhead RSS. BJP Leadership and RSS have always maintained that UCC is required in order to create an “inclusive India”.

Two BJP-ruled states — Uttarakhand and Gujarat — have already formed committees to look into the implementation of the UCC. The Assam government has also shown commitment to implement it, and the BJP had promised to implement UCC in its election manifesto for Karnataka.

This is Modi Govt’s second attempt to fetch opinion of Public

This is the second time the Modi Govt has invited the opinion of Public and other stakeholders on this matter. The Law Commission had taken up the matter on the basis of a reference sent to it in 2016 by the Union Ministry of Law and Justice.

The 21st Law Commission had issued an “appeal” along with a questionnaire in October 2016. Three more public notices were issued in 2018 — twice in March and once in April. According to the Wednesday notice, the commission had then received “overwhelming responses”, following which a consultation paper on ‘Reforms of Family Law’ was released in August 2018.

Muslim bodies say UCC is ‘against the spirit of the Constitution’

As expected, several Muslim bodies have come out in opposition to the proposed UCC. These bodies called this move “against the spirit of the Constitution” and “contrary to religious freedom enjoyed by all citizens”, the AIMPLB (All India Muslim Personal Law Board) urged the government to give an another thought over this proposal. It called this as a diversionary attempt to polarize the society.

Another Islamic bodies such as the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and Jamaat-e-Islami Hind also came out strongly against the proposal to examine afresh the desirability of a common civil law. The general body meeting of the Jamiat called the Uniform Civil Code questionnaire an exercise “against the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution”.

General secretary of the All India Shia Muslim Personal Law Board Maulana Yasoob Abbas, said: “India is a beautiful country where people of all faiths have been living peacefully since ages with their personal laws. Every community needs its own personal laws to survive so any interference would not be welcomed and we are set to oppose the UCC.”

Opposition is against this move

As expected, barring few political parties, almost entire Opposition has flayed this move. The opposition questioned the need for the Law Commission to take this up again, several opposition leaders have effectively positioned themselves against the UCC. This has become more of an ideological battle, where BJP and its few alliances are pushing for the constitutional promise of a UCC, whereas the so called secular liberal political parties are up against it.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said it is strange that the Law Commission is seeking a fresh reference when it acknowledges that its predecessor, the 21st Law Commission, had published a consultation paper on the subject in August 2018. He further said that the Law Commission’s latest attempt to seek fresh public opinion on the UCC represents the NDA government’s desperation for continuing with its agenda of polarization and diversion from its failures.

Samajwadi Party MP from Sambhal, Shafiqur Rahman Barq, opposed the Law Commission seeking fresh public opinion on UCC and said it would only spread hatred in the country.

Is Opposition falling into a perfectly carved out trap of BJP?

The opposition may be opposing this move, but it is resulting in a bad optics, that too just before the next General Elections. The opposition parties are taking a stand and terming it as another opportunity for minority bashing, However, they are forgetting that such topics gain massive traction among the majority of population. It will give a clear message among the masses that opposition parties could shove reforms of family laws down the throat of the Hindus but dare not do the same to the Muslims and Christians.

The idea is to push the opposition into a photo-op with the conservative leadership of the Muslim and Christian communities. As in the case of the debate on triple talaq, the opposition is stepping into this trap of BJP. We really don’t know how much dent they could have experienced, but this won’t be a positive development, this is pretty much sure.

UCC – Is it the Right Time to enact it?

Well, it may sound too much complex, but the concept of UCC has a powerful yet simple rationale: equality before the law. If all Indian citizens can be governed by the same Indian Penal Code, then what’s harm in having a single principle for civil code?

Different communities and religious groups can enjoy their separate rituals and customs, but how can any community be allowed to violate the fundamental rights of individuals? Can a community’s right to religion or culture be allowed to trump the right to equality for the women in that community? Well, this is how it is happening today, and Uniform Civil Code will only remediate this anomaly.

We believe that our entire political class must come together and must reclaim the progressive and principled position on the UCC. They must understand that UCC has nothing to do with practices and customs of any one religion; it is about implementing the uniform primacy of constitutional principles of equality between and within religious communities and uniformly ensuring the gender justice for all. UCC is a noble idea, whose time has finally arrived.

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