Uniform Civil Code – A Forgotten Promise!

‘One Country…One Code’ was in fact, one of the most important goals of the founding fathers of the biggest democracy in the world. So much so that this agenda was put-to-paper when the Indian Constitution was being drafted. Hence, Article 44 of the Indian Constitution specifically provides that “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”  Although it’s been 70 years since we attained independence, 66 years since we became a republic and 40 years since we became a “secular” country, equality for all citizens in all matter…still remains but a distant dream.

There are many who scream hoarse that this cannot be done. Truth is, there are many countries where this has already been done. Take Turkey for example, which incidentally is a Muslim country; and which sifted from a country that was ruled by the Shariah to becoming a secular country with a modern and uniform civil code for all. Similarly, Nepal, our close neighbour, transformed from a Hindu state to a secular country. [Note: The reason I offered these two examples (when there are countless others) is because one was a Muslim nation and the other – a Hindu nation.]

Thus, if we look at the different countries across the world that has adopted a uniform civil code, there are many learnings that we can derive from the collective experience of these nations as to how did they go about :- (a) resolving the challenge of a uniform civil code for all its citizens, (b) providing continued respect and adherence to customs and communities, and (c) redefining the relationship between state and religion.

Even Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, dreamed of a country where every citizen – irrespective of his caste, creed, or colour – would be treated equally. Which is why, ‘equality’ is the most important tenet of our democracy, which therefore requires that this country formulate and follow a uniform civil code for all its citizenry. This unfortunately gets negated in a country like India, where every person follows a ‘Personal Law’ – one that is determined vis-a-vis one’s religion.  Thus, in India, personal laws govern interpersonal relationships (including coparcenary rights, i.e. right to property).

As of now, the personal laws in India are divided into:

(1) Hindu law (which is applicable to the Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists)

(2) Muslim law

(3) Parsi law

(4) Christian law

(5) Secular civil law (optional) that covers a few fields in family law.

There are several problems that arise due to these personal laws…be it when two people (of different religions) wish to marry…or…the issue of coparcenary rights for children that result from such marriages…or…when women from different religions are given different rights. All of these problems can in fact be tackled with a simple solution: delivering to them the promise that was made to them 70 years ago…The promise of a country that would not judge its citizens by his caste, creed, and colour.

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