Indian media is full of debate about uniform civil code. This debate has in turn been triggered by the law commission’s consultation paper on implementation of uniform civil code in India. In this CAN I will be first addressing the whole idea of personal laws, how did it come into origin and will also explore the origins of Uniform civil code (hereinafter UCC) in India. Thereafter I will look at the current legal paradigm and will trace secular laws in the current system. Lastly, I will focus on major arguments that are being made against and in favour of implementation of UCC in India.
So to begin with, Indians have always been governed by complex laws which had their basis in community’s specific identity. Laws have not only been different for Hindus and Muslims, but there were many differences in laws governing various sub-groups within these communities. While upper casts practiced sati, this was not a common practice in various Dalit communities and some of the north Indian communities like Jats. Further, communal laws did not only govern personal relations, but also governed criminal acts, taxation etc. However when the British arrived in India they were advised on laws by Mullahs and Pundits. This was in turn so because these men appeared to acquire a position of authority in the Indian society. As a consequence they came to perceive entire Indian society from the perspective of this class of people. While they slowly modified other laws governing criminal acts, taxation, trade etc. they did not do the same with personal laws because they had no interactions with locals in that sphere. However the same was not true for other spheres such as criminal acts, taxation and trade. Hence British left personal laws as they were while modifying other laws.
In the initial decades of 20th century, Indian women’s rights movements and liberals in congress started making demands for improving condition of women under personal laws and implementing UCC. Post-independence, prime minister and a bunch of female MPs tried to push for inclusion of UCC in the constitution and also made an attempt to reform personal laws. Consequently UCC was added under article 44 of the constitution and Hindu marriage Act, 1956 was passed. As a consequence of this personal laws were divided into two sub branches. The first was the secular law and much similar to it, the Hindu personal law. These laws covered most of the population but Muslims. Muslims continued to be governed by their uncodified personal law based on sharia. This divide thereafter popped up as a major question of law in the Shah Bano case. The question of Muslim woman’s right to maintenance was under question. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India ruled in favour of granting the right of maintenance to a Muslim woman after divorce. However, this was quickly reversed by the parliament by passing Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. This in turn was on account of backlash by Muslim community.
Now the issue of UCC has popped up again in the public domain. Things are certainly different from how they looked in 1986. There is a Hindu right government in the centre, women’s rights movements have become more powerful and there is a general consensus to address archaic medieval practices like triple talakh. On the other hand under current political environment Muslim community feel its identity to be threatened more than ever before. Under such circumstances debate is likely to be fierce. God forbid any communal violence.