Our country and our society need a Uniform Civil Code now more than ever. Each religion has a different set of personal laws and most of these laws are discriminatory towards women and patriarchal in nature – thus violating the basic rights of equality and freedom of the women in our country. Yes, Article 25 of our constitution grants every citizen the right to practice, propagate and profess their religion and religious practices, but such practices should not be tolerated if they are violative of individual rights. And it’s not just the duty of our government to frame a Uniform Civil Code, if such a time comes when such laws are made then it is also the duty of each and every citizen of our country to accept and follow it, and respect the rights of other citizens – as only then our country will be truly democratic.
The principle for a UCC is mentioned in Article 44 in Part IV of our constitution. It is very interesting to note here that the provision for UCC is mentioned among the Directive Principles of State Policy and not in the fundamental rights as while making the constitution, even the members of the constituent assembly could not come to a consensus on this issue. While some of the members believed that such a code would encroach on an individual’s Right to Freedom others believed that it would co-exist with personal laws.
Personal religious laws do not come before women’s fundamental rights.
India at that time was a newly born country with vast diversity and thus, the members of the constituent assembly didn’t find the time to be right to introduce such a change. But they did include it in the directive principles, as a guideline for the future governments. This decision seems to be well thought – as it was taken keeping in mind the social and political condition of that time. But since then our country has come a long way, in quiet many fields we have progressed a lot, we stand as the largest democratic country in the world yet sixty-nine years after the adoption of our constitution, the questions such as should UCC be adopted, is the country now ready, remain unanswered.
Though India has not been able to come to a conclusion, time and again religious stakeholders, the common man, the government and the judiciary have debated upon the above questions. Various cases such as the Shah Bano case, Sarla Mudgal case and the Triple Talaq case have brought in the forefront the injustices suffered by women due to the personal law systems. Take for example the Shah Bano case and the Muslim personal laws, Shah Bano married a man called Ahmad Khan but later he drove her out of his house and refused to give her the maintenance amount and so she filed a case under Section 125 of CrPC against her husband demanding her rights. But instead of providing her with the maintenance amount he gave her an irrevocable talaq and took the defence that since Bano had ceased to be his wife so he was under no obligation to provide maintenance for her as per the Muslim personal laws.
Though the Supreme Court passed judgement in favour of Shah Bano complete justice was not granted as the verdict was overturned by Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act of 1986 passed by the parliament. It is very clear that the act was only passed by the then ruling party to not anger the Muslim community and lose votes.
The fact that our women despite living in a democratic republic have to approach the courts for their basic rights shows that a Uniform Civil Code is the need of the hour. Even the Supreme Court of our country in many other key judgements pertaining to ‘fundamental rights vs personal laws’ has upheld the need to form a Uniform Civil Code. The apex court has always endorsed gender justice and in the Shah Bano case the court also held that “It is also a matter of regret that Article 44 of our Constitution has remained a dead letter”. The issue regarding UCC has also been raised in many other judgements such as Lily Thomas v.Union of India 2000, Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group (AWAG) v. Union of India, AIR 1997 and the most recent being the Triple Talaq case.
Despite the need for a Uniform Civil Code, vote bank politics and appeasement policies adopted by political parties prove to be an obstacle. For a country to grow, social progression is as necessary as economic progression and UCC is imperative for India to progress socially as it will not only help in eliminating gender discrimination but would also promote the cause of national integration.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)