Ahead of the upcoming Vidhan Sabha polls in Uttarakhand, State Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has vowed to implement the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the hilly State.
While speaking about the matter on Saturday (February 12), he said, “Implementing Uniform Civil Code in Uttarakhand at the earliest will boost equal rights for everyone in the state. It’ll enhance social harmony, boost gender justice, strengthen women empowerment & help protect the extraordinary cultural-spiritual identity & environment of the state.”
Implementing Uniform Civil Code in Uttarakhand at the earliest will boost equal rights for everyone in state. It’ll enhance social harmony, boost gender justice, strengthen women empowerment&help protect the extraordinary cultural-spiritual identity & environment of the state: CM pic.twitter.com/uK8YhFbwtu— ANI UP/Uttarakhand (@ANINewsUP) February 12, 2022
The long-standing demand for Uniform Civil Code
The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has been a long-standing demand of the BJP. UCC overrides personal laws and calls for a similar set of rules for adherents of different religions in civil matters including marriage, divorce, adoption, succession and maintenance. UCC was even recommended even by the Supreme Court of India during the infamous Shah Bano case of 1985.
Currently, the Hindu Personal law applies to Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists while the non-codified Muslim personal laws are based on the Shariat Law of 1937. Similarly, marriages and divorces in the Christian community are governed by the Indian Divorce Act of 1869 and the Indian Christian Marriages Act of 1872. Zoroastrians are governed by the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act of 1936.
The provision to set up Uniform Civil Code has been laid down in Article 44 (Part IV) of the Indian Constitution. UCC has been included in the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) and can be implemented by the State governments. They are not enforceable by courts. The Western State of Goa is the only State that has implemented the Uniform Civil Code.
UCC in the State of Goa
Following the annexation of Goa, India retained the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867 that applied to all residents of the State, irrespective of their religion. As such, all marriages in the State are registered under the Goan Civil Code. It also provides provision for a prenuptial agreement for asset distribution.
Under the Goa succession, special notaries and inventory proceeding Act of 2012, no distinction is made in the right of male and female heirs in the inheritance of properties. The application of the Special Marriage Act of 1954, which allows for inter-faith marriage without the necessity to change one’s religion, is also different in Goa. Unlike other States, Muslim men are barred from practising polygamy.
In March 2021, the then Chief Justice of India SA Bobde had remarked, “Goa has what Constitutional framers envisaged for India – a Uniform Civil Code. And I have had the great privilege of administering justice under that Code. It applies in marriage and succession, governing all Goans irrespective of religious affiliation.”
He further added, “I have heard a lot of academic talk about the Uniform Civil Code. I would request all those intellectuals to simply come here and watch the administration of justice to know what it turns out to be.”
Advantages and Challenges surrounding Uniform Civil Code
UCC was envisioned by the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution as a law that will govern the entirety of the country. Gender justice and equality are the key concepts behind the idea of UCC, aimed at eliminating prejudiced and discriminatory personal laws of certain religions.
Uniform Civil Code embodies the idea of secularism by separating religion from civil subjects such as adoption, marriage and succession. It will also help in further simplification of laws and smooth functioning of the Judiciary. It is also believed that uniformity in personal laws will help foster a feeling of national integration and prevent overlapping of different laws.
“Under a uniform civil code, all the citizens are treated equally. Under the present personal laws, matters relating to marriages, adoption are treated differently under the respective personal laws, this is inconsistent with Article 14 which ensures equality before the law…The implementation of UCC will ensure that more women get liberty and equality. It will no longer bind them to religious and cultural beliefs,” wrote Pooja Arora in iPleaders.
It must be mentioned that certain provisions in the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867, however, do not apply uniformly to all religions. For instance, the civil jurisdiction of courts in matters of separation and divorce do not apply to Catholics. High Courts can only convey the decrees of Canonical courts to Civil Registrars for annulment of marriage.
Unlike the rest of India, Hindu men are allowed to practice bigamy in accordance with the Codes of Usages and Customs of Gentile Hindus of Goa, 1880. They can have 2 wives at the same time, provided the first wife fails to deliver a child (by 25 years of age) or a male child (by 30 years of age).
Hindus can also adopt children while other communities are barred from adoption. Moreover, the Church has the authority and the power to not just solemnise marriages but also to dissolve them at the insistence of one of the parties.