Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Uniform Civil Code: What and Why Not?

Whenever I mention anything about any aspect of personal laws or their reforms, whether in my blog or in conversations, I am confronted with questions regarding Uniform Civil Code.   It is as if unless you have an opinion on Uniform Civil code, you are not entitled to talk on any other aspects of personal laws!

It always surprises me as to why so many people are so concerned about the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) as if UCC is the panacea for all our social ills! I for one have never found UCC important enough a subject in the social context of India.

Generally, there are two streams of supporters for UCC. 

First stream consists of atheists and liberals who want India to adopt uniform personal laws that are based on internationally accepted universal principles, for all its citizens, irrespective of their religion, caste, creed or tribe.  They base their argument on the need to protect all our citizens from injustices bestowed upon them by factors like religion, caste etc.  Universal but alien rules are their demand and these are mostly based on western concept of human rights and personal laws.  In other words, this view is similar to saying that let us adopt English as the sole language for India so that there is uniformity among all its citizens.  We will discuss later as to why such a view is not practical in India.

The other stream consists of people who are otherwise holding strong views on religious matters; to be more specific, the proponents of Hindutva!   They can be spotted from their eagerness to quote the ‘right to marry 4 women’ and the ‘right to easy divorce by uttering the word ‘talaq’ for 3 times’, available to Muslim men, as examples for the injustice that justifies adoption of UCC.   Talk a little further and most likely you will find the hate of other religions than any genuine wish for uniformity in civil laws as the reason for their vehement support for UCC.  In other words, for them UCC is a mere tool to beat the minorities with (more often than not for narrow political purposes)!

What is Uniform Civil Code?

Let us see what this Uniform Civil Code is all about.   UCC generally refers to that part of law which deals with family affairs of an individual and denotes uniform law for all citizens, irrespective of his/her religion, caste or tribe. 

Laws relating to crime and punishment are uniform for all citizens.  So are the laws relating to commerce, contracts and other economic affairs.   Procedural laws including laws relating evidence etc are also uniform for everyone.  Laws of taxation are same for all except that it recognises certain religious customs prevalent in the society, like Hindu Undivided Family (HUF), for special treatment. 

However, family affairs such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, guardianship and adoption are legally permitted to be governed by customs or rules applicable to the persons and their community.  This has been the practise from the time of British rule (even before that), because it was considered prudent not to disturb the people’s religious and community customs as far as their private affairs are concerned.  The same position continued even after the independence and people were permitted to follow their respective personal laws.

Over the period, there have been attempts to codify personal laws applicable to each religious group.  The codified personal laws relating to marriage, divorce and inheritance are mainly:
  •  The Indian Christian Marriage Act of 1872 (applicable to whole of India except areas of erstwhile Travancore- Cochin, Manipur and Jammu & Kashmir),
  • Anand Marriage Act, 1909 (For Sikh marriages),
  • Cochin Christian Civil Marriage Act of 1920 (applicable for Travancore-Cochin areas),
  • Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 (making Shariat laws applicable to Indian Muslims),  
  • The Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act, 1937
  • Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (applicable to not merely Hindus, Buddhists and Jains but also to any person who is not a Muslim, Christian, Parsi or Jew, and who is not governed by any other law),

Hindu Marriage Act (the latest and covering most of the population) itself provides for exemptions to certain clauses where custom or usage governing each of the parties so permits.  For example, the legality of marriages involving cousins prevalent in certain groups of Hindus belonging to South India is protected by this exemption.  Similarly, the Act itself is exempted for people who are governed by any other law.  Courts have recognised certain Tribal customs as ‘other laws’ thereby exempting the members of certain tribes from applicability of the Hindu Marriage Act.  In other words, even Hindu Marriage Act is not uniform for all Hindus/persons covered by the Act.

While Indian Parliament has enacted a secular law for marriages (The Special Marriage Act, 1954) that provides a system of marriage irrespective of the religion or faith followed by either party to the marriage, the number of marriages that occurs under this system is still negligible.  Most of the proponents of UCC must ask themselves as to why they are not adopting this uniform law of marriage, for themselves or their families, and then they will get the answer as to why India did not adopt UCC!

UCC is definitely not about forcing the customs of majority onto minority!

Why we cannot have UCC?

The family life of Indians is, rightly or wrongly, guided by their respective religious and customary beliefs.  Religions more or less survive only through the ceremonies and social customs enforced upon its members. If they are negated, soon enough religions will lose their eminence in social sphere.

On the other hand, if a different set of rules that violate the religious precepts are enforced upon individuals that would negate the fundamental rights of ‘Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion’ guaranteed under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.

The debate on UCC must be widened beyond 4 wives and 3 talaqs.  Look at the honour killings and Khap Panchayat verdicts. They all want to enforce their religious and customary beliefs on the members of their family and community.  If a system other than what conforms to their faith is forced up on them, it invariably leads to social unrest.

India is a country of million customs and communities. Everyone thinks that his/her faith and customs are the best.  No one wants to consider reforming own system, yet wants to worry about others’ systems.  As I already mentioned, UCC is used more often than not as a tool for minority bashing rather than genuine social reforms.   Such minority bashing will only make the members of those communities more possessive about their identity and customs, thereby further reducing any scope for a UCC.

The unfortunate interference and mixing of religions with politics has further complicated the social atmosphere.  The political stakes will ensure that no one can enforce a UCC over the multicultural society of India.  Instead, interested politicians will only keep the issue of UCC burning to bash their opponents and please their vote banks!

UCC is not necessary

In my opinion, there is no urgent need to force any UCC on an unwilling population.  Most people, be it Hindu, Christian, Muslim or any other community, are not ready to adopt truly secular laws separated from religious customs.  Also, it is not right to force the customs of one group, howsoever dominant it may be, upon other groups.  So, we can try to solve thousands of other less contentious problems that our society is facing and are more public in nature than personal laws!

As for the social obligations or protection of human rights etc are concerned, we can ensure certain bottom line rules through general laws. For example, Prohibition of Child marriage Act, 2006 is a general law that prevails over all personal laws.  Any conditions that are considered appropriate can be incorporated in that Act so as to ensure no child marriage takes place even if personal laws permit it.

Another such example is Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).  This section provides a system by which courts are permitted to pass orders for maintenance of wives, children and parents, under criminal procedures, irrespective of person’s religious status.  

As far as personal laws are concerned, what we need is to bring reforms in each of them to make them relevant for the changing times.  Instead of an external enforcement, let these changes be internal reforms.  That is better for the preservation of social fabric of the nation and sense of belongingness of its people.  Let us not quote examples or ape less sensible systems like those in religious countries.  We don’t cut our noses to spite others!

Way forward

We must, however, provide a secular and uniform alternative to people, as in the case of Special Marriage Act, in case they are voluntarily willing to adopt such systems.  These systems can be modelled as far as feasible, on universally accepted practices suiting to the sensitivities of Indians. 

Let us give the option to people to opt out of the classifications based on religions.  If a person decides he does not want to be governed by any religious personal laws, he must have that right.  Also, we must ensure adequacy of general laws to ensure basic human rights and human dignity are protected.

We must also encourage intra- religious debates on their respective personal laws for bringing in timely reforms.  This should be done in an atmosphere of trust and equality. Also any inputs from outside the group must be genuine and advisory in nature than being one of bashing and pulling down!

Always remember that if your personal law has a better provision, it is to your advantage and not to others who do not have it in their personal laws.  So, leave it to them to figure out whether they want an advancement or not and make it easier for reformists within their groups to find a way to convince others on the need for such reforms.  Tolerance, as I always say, is not a concession but an obligation!


  1. Nice comprehensive article.. - Reena Satin

    1. The best part is the final section, 'Way Forward'. Infact, making it optional will make a greater impact than making it mandatory.

      However, if both the partners are not born from the same religion, only UCC should be applicable to them. Look at how some guys make a mockery of the law by converting to Islam and resorting to polygamy.

    2. This suggestion sounds very practical and desirable.

      Unless a person is a member of certain religion for at least certain number of years (if not from the birth)the personal law of that religion must not apply to him or her. In such a case, the general law like Special Marriage Act should apply. This will indeed avoid situations of misuse!

  2. I do not agree with the views expressed here.. Personal laws are the cause of great expenditure and legal and social neglect in India. A hindu man will keep taking dowry from a poor farmer in exchange for his daughter and will not feel answerable to anybody only bcos muslims have their advantages with their personal laws.. So everybody would have their own laws and a policy of non interference would continue which would work against nation building.. What is a nation that does not entertain people to ask questions on customs, rituals and traditions that are age old? Apart from the fact that India spends a lot of money on marriages which when rightly spent would feed some poor people in this country.. A country that encourages ideas and internal debate is where great minds come from.. not a country that tries to please everyone for votebank politics.. Uniform secularism with common laws and practices that respect everybodys fundamental rights will make faster changes to a large and diverse country such as ours and help people come together as a force.. now it just looks like an arrangement of sorts for a roof.. more like something that suits the collective indian mentality of "chalta hai"..This kind of weakness would only force the muslims to go deeper into their shell.. Look at the protests in chennai between sep 14 to 19 2012 for proof.. About 3000 muslims took the arterial road of Chennai by siege(resembled libya or egypt for a minute there) and rallied against the publishing of a blasphemous video on youtube about Prophet Mohammed by somebody in some distant part of the world and brought the city to a standstill.. Its almost like they feel they are privileged and have a certain right that reaches beyond everybody elses.. Ofcourse in India the political parties do this all the time but Chennai has never been a place for religious protests ( other kinds like linguistic, casteist, do exist)..Uniform Civil code is the only way to bring this country back on its feet..otherwise it is like one big buffalo that meanders along just seeking food in the dark.. I am already feeling like I should have studied law..!

    1. who asked here your ditch opinion

  3. Absolutely nonsense and baseless argument by author. The fact that he can say that "I for one have never found UCC important enough a subject in the social context of India" clearly indiactes that he has no idea about the condition of Muslim women in India. These laws are nearly 100 years old and if all communite sin the world have reforme the laws why should'nt the Muslim community do so. And as for his examples of honour killings and khap panchayats he has done nothing but in reality made forward an argument for the adoption of the UCC. UCC is not a law that favours the Hindus it is a law for evvery citizen of India.No group wants to dominate any minortiy group via the UCC.

    1. The author has clearly addressed people like for whom UCC is just tool for muslim bashing. What about the jats and hindu other groups who do no allow same gotra marriages. Will they accept UCC. According to hindu law, south indians are exempt from the law such that they can marry cousins.So will the so called UCC change that. It surely wont cause according to the proponents of the UCC the customs of the majority must be preserved but of the minorities should be banned.

    2. condition of Muslim women in India ?????? Don't ask cnn as to how muslim women feel in India Don't ask the bbc as to how muslim women feel in India Don't ask the media as to how muslim women feel ... if you are so curious to know as to how they feel go ask a muslim women herself. Agreed there have been atrocities commited on them by the male shovinistic society as it is been done by some members of other RELIGIONS TOO. you can't blame the whole religon itself for that.


  4. UCC with relevant changes in it, to protect our national diversity and make Unity in Diversity completely stronge is what i think is best possible option for National unity of India, isn't it?
    My only concern is to control fundamentalist regardless of religion to protect the people who live in Harmony with ther respective religion.
    what is your option to this issu regarding to peace loving different followers???

  5. I agree with your sentiments and it is my dream too that one day our people will be matured enough to have a UCC. Today, the demands for UCC is not coming from the peace loving followers (who wouldn't care what other are following) but mainly from fundamentalists from majority religion, or those who are under the impression that UCC will remove all evils from social life.

  6. Helo Jay, rely happy to continu my this discussion with you. i hope u understand Hindi, cos i m not good at English. so i m going to discus this point furthar in Hindi. If u r not comfortable thn i will try to share n explain my thoughts in English any way. And at any point by mistake my views heart you thn i m really sory for that.

    Hamare desh me kai sare aise kanoon hai jisme wartman samay ki maang ke hisaab se badalaw pehale hua hai aur abhi bhi ho raha hai.
    UCC ki baat aati hai to ye baat karne walo ko aur is baat ko support karne waalo ko turant Minority-Majority ya dharma ke naam pe baant kar is deshke liye inti jaroori maang ko galat raste pe mod kar ye shetan neta dabaa dete hai.
    Agar in netaome sachchi 'Niyat' to is dharti ki ye vividhata aaj is tarah khatre me na hoti.

    Jo kaam Britishr 200 saalon me nahi wo kaam (is desh ko todneka)ye beimaan neta satta me rahe to kar hi daalenge aisa ye sirf 65 saaleme lagne lagaha.

    Azadi ke baad Mahatma Gandhi ne kahatha ki desh ko Azadi mil chuki hai ab Congress ka visarjan kar do.
    Badkismati se wo tab hua nahi, lekin ye aaj ki(Kautumbik)congress 'Bade dardnaak' tarike se wohi kaam kar rahi hai. kood ko (aur shayad is Bharat ko) visarjit karneka..!!!!

    God bless India(ns).

    App ye kyu soch rahe hai ke UCC ke maang kon kar raha he!
    Mera soch na ye hai ki is vividhata se bharpoor Hindustan me, ye alabhya vividhta ko kayam aur majboot karne ke liye jo bhi jaroori hai wo kanoon ke bareme, kon kehta hai us se jyada jaroori hai kya kehta hai.

    Kattar vichar dhara wale log achhe se achhi bat ko bhi amanviya arthme soch sakte hai, bol sakte hai, aur aise log jaroor kisi Manviya aur pavitra dhaarmik vichar dhara ka vasata dete hai ya duhai dete hai lekin unki baat 1dam aswikaary hoti hai.

    Hamre yahan sabse badi beimani kai log khaas kar 'Neta' apne Satta/Kursi ke swarth me karte hai ya,
    karne walon ko choop karwane ki jagah khood choop rehkar galat logo ko sar pe chadhte hai phir shant baithe logo ye sab ka virodh karte hai to unhe kattawadi keh kar poora maamla ulzaa dete hai.
    aur ye sil sila abto hadse bahar aur ghatak roop se dikhai aur sunai pad raha hai.

    Minority aur Majourity ka vote base politics, Satta ke ande mohame fasi Nehru pariwar congres ki is desh ko zaharili aur suruaati den hai. Apni Satta ke andhe mohme ye logo ne laghumati ke nam pe Sirf sachhe aur aman parast muslim deshwasiyo ko aur is poore desh ko bada bhaari nooksan pahunchaya hai, aur anewale dinome ye 'apne' faayde me ('Desh' ke nahi) sabse ghatiya ran niti apna sakte hai. ye aap dekhte rehana.

    Mahatma Gandhi, Sardaar Patel, Subhash chandra bose(jo congressi hi the) jeise aur kaion ki jeevan bharki athag mahenat aur tapasya aaj pani me jati dikh rahi hai.

    Hum sirf yehi koshish kare ki,Rashtriy ekta ko majboot aur kayam rakhne ke liye behtar se behatar badlawo ke saath UCC,
    ya phir jo bhi kanoon ho wo laneke liye 'hum sabhi eksaath milkar' netaon ko Majboor kare.

  7. This article becomes more relevant with the new Govt. at centre !! Author's openness is well appreciated, however, in a society where people or their representatives, least bother to debate and reaching a solution, implementation of UCC will be beneficial !!

  8. Uniform Civil Code is not new to India. In the state of Goa there is already Uniform Civil code i.e same law irrespective of the religion and marriage registration is compulsory.

  9. Uniform Civil Code is not new to India. Its already present in the state of Goa from past 100 years.

  10. UCC should be implemented ASAP as I believe religion should not be given such a vast platform and jurisdiction over our lives that we dare not touch it and the religion becomes hindrance in personal growth and fundamental rights. People who say Hindu Code bills gives Hindus special status forget we gave up polygamy and accepted monogamy way back in 1956 Muslims are so backward here after all these years they still have 4 wives and end marriage with utterance of word talaq thrice.. this mentality of Muslims would help Jihadists and now ISIS to harm India. Hindus never forcefully convert anyone but Islam has converted people by cheat or terrorism. Love jihad land jihad what else you want to bestow upon India? Muslims who want to give up their personal laws and live in unified India are welcome and rest may go to Pakistan whose constitution speaks Islam prevails Supreme.

  11. I truly agree with you. By this UCC India will no longer be a country with people of different faiths ,religions living happily.