The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a set of laws which would be applicable to all the citizens irrespective of their religion in matters including marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption. Uniform Civil Code is defined in the Constitution of India under Article 44 of the Directive Principles of the State Policy.
The UCC aims to provide protection to the vulnerable section of the society including women and religious minorities while promoting nationalistic fervour through unity. If the code is enacted, it will wok to simplify the laws that are segregated currently on the basis of religious beliefs. The Delhi High Court on Friday backed the need for the Uniform Civil Code and asked the Centre to take necessary steps in this matter.
Uniform Civil Code in Goa
Goa is the only state in India that has successfully implemented the Uniform Civil Code. This was introduced in 1879 as Goa family law by the Portuguese but after the liberation of Goa this law was retained and later it came to be known as Special Marriage Act. This provides a civil marriage of two people of the opposite sex irrespective of their religion. This is still followed in Goa as it punishes polygamy, that is, one cannot have more than one spouse at a given time. This Act also states that during divorce, the husband and wife will be treated equality in respect of property.
Advantages of UCC
There will be equal status for every citizen without any discrimination.
Bypass the contentious issue of reform of the existing personal laws.
Supports the national integration.
How has the Supreme Court handled the issue regarding UCC?
From its judgement in the Shah Bano case in 1985, the supreme court has dealt with the issue of UCC in several of its judgement. In most of them, the court favoured the common law for citizens and reminded the Parliament of the spirit of Article 44. In the Shah Bano case, the court said that it was a matter of regret that Article 44 has remained a dead letter- “No community is likely to bell the cat by making gratuitous concessions on this issue. It is for the State, which is charged with the duty of securing a uniform civil code and it has legislative competence to do so.” But the court’s order in the Ahmedabad Women Action Group case (1997) and Lily Thomas case (2000) clarified that there was no direction issued to the government for the enactment of the code.
In 2015 the court revived the debate over the subject of common law once again when it asked the Central Government if it was willing to bring UCC since there was total confusion over the stipulations about marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption among various religions.
Delhi High Court on UCC
The Delhi High Court on Friday observed that modern India need the Uniform Civil Code and it can no longer remain a mere hope so that the youth belonging to various communities do not have to struggle with the issues arising due to the conflicts in various personal laws. The court said that the hope expressed in Article 44 of the Constitution that the state shall secure for its citizens Uniform Civil Code should not remain a mere hope. Such a code would be common to all and would enable uniform principles to be applied.
A single bench of Justice Prathiba M. Singh stated that the need for a Uniform Civil Code as laid down under Article 44 has been “reiterated from time to time” by the Supreme Court. Citing the 1985 judgement of the apex court expressing the hope of bringing uniformity and to eliminate these struggles and conflicts, regretted that Article 44 of the Constitution which states that the State shall endeavour to secure a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India for the citizens has remained a dead letter.
The court’s observation came while hearing a plea seeking the applicability of the Hindu Marriage Act,1955 in respect of the parties who belonged to the Meena Community in view of the exclusion under Section 2(2) of the Hindu Marriage Act. The husband filed for a divorce under Section 13(1) of the Act. However, the family court quashed the petition on the ground that the law does not apply to the Meena Community which is a Scheduled Tribe in Rajasthan.
The husband challenged this order in the Delhi High Court. Singh said that the youth of the nation belonging to various communities, tribes, castes or religions who solemnise their marriages should not be forced to struggle with the issues arising due to the conflicts in various personal laws. She further added that if member of a tribe voluntarily chooses to follow the Hindu customs and traditions then they cannot be kept out of the preview of the provisions of the Hindu Marriage Act.
Code common to all will enable uniform principles
If such a code that is common to all is enacted, it would enable the application of uniform principles in respect of aspects like marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption so that settled principles, safeguards and procedures can be laid down and citizens are not subjected to struggle die to the conflicts and contradictions in the personal laws.
The Courts have been repeatedly confronted with the conflicts that arise due to the personal laws. The Centre informed the Parliament last year that it was committed to introducing a Uniform Civil Code but required wider consultations. The court also described Goa as a “shinning example” in respect to the successful implementation of the Uniform Civil Code.
Codified statues and laws provide protection to the parties against any unregulated practices from being implemented. In this day and age, where there is a rise in conflicts due to the personal laws, the implementation of a uniform civil code should not be a mere hope and necessary steps should be further taken in this matter.