The Uniform Civil Code – One Nation, One Law proposal is one of the most contentious issues inside the Indian political realm today. Before I rush in and take my stand and give you reason to judge me, call me ignorant or any other derogatory of your liking, let us first establish what the Uniform Civil Code is and how it can change the lives of Indians.
The term Uniform Civil Code (UCC) envisages administration of the same set of secular rules to govern people belonging to different regions and holding different religious beliefs. The UCC is used to articulate a set of rules and regulations that will aim to govern all personal matters including marriage, divorce, adoption, inheritance, property as well as personal status of all Indian citizens.
Article 44 of the Indian Constitution has cultivated this principle as a Directive Principle of State Policy, reading:
“The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a Uniform Civil Code throughout the territory of India.”
Currently in India, different communities have different laws governing various aspects of their daily lives, i.e. the laws governing inheritance and divorce among Muslims differ from those of Christians and Hindus. India currently has four major personal laws – Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis.
The Uniform Civil Code is seen as a sign of a progressive nation. Although the exact outlines of such a code are yet to be spelled out, it will most likely incorporate the most modern and progressive aspects of all current personal laws while disregarding the outdated regressive practices.
One Nation, One Law is seen as a necessity for India to continue its strive towards becoming a world power. Implementation of the UCC will show that the nation has moved beyond the traditional distinctions based on gender, caste, sex and place of birth.
Uniformity in India is crucial for the promotion of gender equality. Religious laws such as the Hindu practice of sati, or the Muslim practice of forcing a woman to marry her rapist are extremely regressive and discriminatory against women. Injustices like the Shah Bano case in 1978 comes in the mind of every Indian whenever the subject of the UCC is re-opened. Today we see many women’s rights groups campaigning heavily for the implementation of the UCC. However, whilst many are in favour of adopting a uniform code across the country, many persist with the old rhetoric that the secular fabric of the nation will be threatened, placing religious freedom at risk.
“Values as per religion, rights as per the law.”
To those fear mongers who attribute the initiation of the Uniform Civil Code as the first step in the central government’s plan to make India a Hindu Rashtra (Hindu State), I ask you just one question.
On the scale of 1 – 10, how dumb are you?
Answer: George W. Bush.
Yep, that’s how dumb you are. If India was to be made a Hindu state, it would have happened a long time ago. India is built upon the idea of secularism and freedom to practice religion. Moreover, it is not a theocratic nation, it is a democracy, where India comes first and the constitution reigns supreme. Drilled.
If it is the fear of being a minority that is holding the nation back from adopting the UCC, it is probably time everyone came out of such an intuition. Think about it briefly. When you look at it closer, the Uniform Civil Code will do away with any kind of an issue that deals with being in minority amidst the majority. The term minority and majority will disintegrate from society, with everyone being put under the same umbrella. All citizens whether male or female will be set in the same footage. In such conditions, what will be the role of being in minority?
Some minority groups claim that a common code is an imposition of majority laws over minority laws. Many believe that the implementation of a UCC will be based on Hindu personal laws. This is another silly surmise. Diversity in India is not just religious, it is also regional. Territories like Goa, Daman and Diu have Portuguese Civil Law governing family law and inheritance. Hindus are in majority in Goa, yet are still subject to Portuguese Civil Law. The Goan Christians are also governed by the same code, making certain Christian Personal Laws, as well as the Indian Succession Act not applicable. Muslim Personal Law is also not applicable in Goa. Almost the entire population of Goa follow a common civil code. If it is possible here, why not throughout the whole country?
The biggest challenge for India will be to change the mindsets of many who tie themselves to the institutions of religion before the state. When it comes to the nation building process, one should consider themselves as a citizen of the soil rather than a Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh. Education regarding the powers of the constitution, which guarantees equal rights to all citizens regardless of affiliation will be important in the journey towards One Nation, One Law.
The current government is putting an end to the British divide and rule tactics that have been inherited by Indian politicians since independence. If the UCC can reduce the distinctiveness of minority groups across the country, those political parties that have drawn power from appeasement for the last 70 years will now have to come up with some new tactics to get votes. It is safe to say that the eagerness for uniformity shown by the central government is leaving brown stains in the pants of those who have up until now, used divisive methods to gain political support.