File Copyright Online - File mutual Divorce in Delhi - Online Legal Advice - Lawyers in India

The Interface With The Religious Laws And Uniform Civil Code

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech in Madhya Pradesh on 27 June 2023 thrust discussions about the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) into the spotlight, triggering nationwide debates on its potential implementation as he believes it will help women get there long due rights.

Following this, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on July 8 announced that the UCC would be enforced in the state once its draft committee submits the report. Bhartiya Janata Party's assertive stance on the UCC and to abolish personal laws concerning marriage, divorce, inheritance of property and maintenance is central to their 2024 general elections.

Though supporters of UCC believe it will lead to national integration, gender equality and justice. However, the opposite stance believe that UCC, that is, a uniform personal law might not lead to unified nation and will erode boundaries of tolerance despite being non cognizable and will be a threat to the religious freedom and diversity.

The UCC proposal has suffered a lot of backlash from orthodox Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other minorities whose traditions and customs are the same from many decades and even centuries. The Constituent Assembly of India was not able to resolve the conundrum it poses and included it in the Directive Principle of State Policy rather than a Fundamental Right.

What Is UCC?

UCC is focused on creating a consistent legal framework that applies to all individuals, irrespective of their religious beliefs and personal laws, with the aim of promoting equality.

Article 44 in the Directive Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of India, state 'the State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.'

That is, the state can only endeavor to achieve a common code among its citizens rather than enforce it. The Constituent Assembly left it to the discretion of the government to implement UCC and recognize the sensitivity and complexity of the issue at that time only. Though, over the years many governments have discussed and debated the implementation of UCC, it is still a sensitive topic in the politics and the society.

But critics point that the implementation of UCC violates the Fundamental Rights, Article 25 and 29 of the Constitution of India. Article 25 talks about freedom to profess and practice one's religion and article 29 talks about the right to have distinct culture.

There are many cases in India where the Supreme Court referred article 44 and concept of UCC, to highlight the informal attitude of the executive and the legislature in the implementation of directives.

In India, the only state with UCC is Goa, which retains the common family law known as Goa Civil Code after being liberated from Portuguese rule in 1961 and the rest of India follows different personal laws based on their religious and community identity. But even this code is not all uniform as it has special provision for different communities.

The personal laws were framed during the British Raj in India, mainly for Hindu and Muslim citizens. The British did not want to interfere in the domestic sphere of the community and have a backlash, thus, they did not oppose having a personal law. With India's independence, Hindu Code bills were introduced which were codified and reformed personal laws in various sects in Indian religion like Buddhist, Hindu, Jains and Sikhs but exempted Christians, Jews, Muslim and Parsis, and identified them different from the community of Hindus.

UCC's importance in India emerged from the Shah Bano case in 1985, which raised many questions on the laws applicable to citizens without abridging fundamental right to practice religious functions.

Personal Laws

There are many religions with their own personal laws in India of marriage, divorce, maintenance, child custody, adoption, inheritance and property rights.
The Hindu Personal laws are from the ancient religious text and customs. The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 governs marriage and divorce among Hindus, Hindu Succession Act, 1956 deals with inheritance, with giving women equal right to inherit property from their parents as the Hindu men.

The Muslim Personal law in India is based on the Sharia. That is, the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937 regulates matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance and maintenance among Muslims.

For the Christians, Parsis and Jews in India, the Indian Succession Act, 1925 applies. Christian women receive a predetermined share based on the presence of children or other relatives. Parsi widows receive an equal share as their children, with half of the child's share going to the deceased's parents if they are alive.

Important Cases
The frequent conflict between secular and religious authorities over the issue of UCC eventually decreased, until the 1985 Shah Bano Begum v. Mohammad Ahmed Khan case. Mohammad Ahmed Khan, husband of Shah Bano divorced her after 40 years of marriage by triple Talaaq, when Shah Bano was 73 years old. Thus she wanted maintenance from her former husband, but was denied of the regular maintenance.

She was granted maintenance by local court in 1980 but Khan challenged this judgment in the Supreme Court saying he had fulfilled all his obligations under the Islamic law. But the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Shah Bano in 1985 under the 'maintenance of wives, children and parents' provision which is the Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code, applied to all citizens of India. The court also recommended the establishment of the UCC to promote national integration by avoiding conflicts between the laws of various communities.

Still the All India Muslim Board defended the latter applications of Muslim Personal Law and denied Muslim women the right to alimony. The conservative Muslim found the Supreme Court judgment an attack on Islam feeling that their communal identity was at stake. The liberal and progressive Indians, and even some of the Muslims in support of the judgment.

Rajiv Gandhi's government lost the local election in 1985 because of the judiciary decision, there were many protest for complete autonomy in personal laws as well. An independent Muslim Member of Parliament bill was proposed to protect the personal laws, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Divorce) Bill, 1986 was introduced to make Section 125 of Criminal Procedure Code inapplicable to Muslim women and that the alimony to be paid by the Muslim man for only 90 days after the divorce.

Though after losing the local elections, the Rajiv Gandhi government was in favor of this bill, the liberal groups like the Left, Muslim Liberals and women organization opposed it.

The bill was passed and this was seen as a colossal defeat of liberal movements and protection of women in the Indian society.
The next important case was the Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India (1995), in which Supreme Court held that the Hindu husband cannot convert to Islam and marry another woman without dissolving the first marriage. The court further noted that UCC will prevent such fraudulent conversions and bigamous marriages to happen.

In Shayara Bano v. Union of India (2017) or famously known as the 'triple talaaq case,' the union of India supported the women rights organization like Bebaak Collective and Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) and there plea that triple talaaq should be held unconstitutional as subject to fundamental rights. Supreme Court in its judgment declared the practice of triple talaaq as unconstitutional, illegal and punishable as it is violative of dignity and equality of Muslim women and wanted Parliament to enact a law to regulate Muslim marriages and divorces.

Why Is UCC Controversial In India?

India is a religiously and culturally rich country, home of many religions with their own customs, traditions and personal laws. With the UCC, it challenges the diversity and challenges the individual religious laws with same laws for all. The UCC challenges the cultural fabric of the country and impinge the religious freedom of its citizens. Also the implementation of UCC will be a cumbersome task, the cultural differences from state to state and community to community is also a hindrance to the unified personal law.

Critics argue that with UCC the unique rights and protections enjoyed by the minority groups are challenged and erode the cultural autonomy. But in a pluralistic society such as India, protecting minority rights and preserving distinct practices is considered crucial.

The vote banks and the political calculations take precedence over a genuine discussion on the merits and drawbacks of the UCC. Each political party wants to win the elections and thus they do not want to indulge in the sensitive topic of religion and the impact on the minority community and hamper their winnings in the elections.

Supporters of UCC state that it will lead to an equal society irrespective of the discrimination on basis of gender and religion. The common code will ensure equal rights in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance and maintenance. But the critics state that gender equality can be achieved in personal laws as well.

Many feel that the common code will foster national integration by sense of unity among the religious communities of India and strengthen secular fabric of India. Critics say that UCC is highly complex and sensitive because of the religious beliefs and customs in India.

The question on democracy of India plays an important role too, the citizens in a democracy have the right to practice, propagate and profess their own religion and freedom of religion of one's choice as given by the constitution, and with the UCC the critics state the government is basically taking away their right to decide their religion.

Critics also point out that the people from different communities would not be willing to adopt secular laws by the government. Every religious authority will say that they have the right to decide various issues as a matter of personal laws and not agree with the uniform law passed by the government.

Need For UCC

In India, we have followed selective secularism till now, that is, we are secular in some areas and not in some other. With the UCC all Indian would have to follow same laws irrespective of their religion. This would be a fair and real secularism. People still can follow their religion as they did before but they just would be equal in every sense which is better in all senses.

Everyone will be treated equal for the tasks they do, earlier with the personal laws, Muslims could marry multiple times in India but if Hindus or Christian marry multiple women at the same time they would have been prosecuted.

A UCC will help in improving the conditions of women in India. The patriarchal society of India with old religious rules mistreated and dominated women, the uniform code will help in changing these age old tradition and women will be treated fairly and given equal rights.

Every modern progressive nation has a uniform civil code. It is a sign that nation has moved away from caste and religious politics, the code will help society move forward and take India towards its goal of being a developed nation.

UCC would promote national integration and secularism by creating a common identity and sense of belonging among all its citizens, it will reduce communal and sectarian conflicts and uphold the constitutional values of equality, fraternity and dignity for all.

UCC will simplify and rationalize the legal system by removing the complexities and contradictions of multiple personal laws. It will harmonise the civil and criminal laws by removing loopholes which arise due to the different personal laws. The law would be more accessible and understandable by the common people.

UCC will also modernize and reform the outdated and regressive practices that are prevalent in some personal laws. The UCC will eliminate the practices that are against human rights and values of the Constitution of India and accommodate the changing social realities and aspirations of the people.

India is a secular nation, for them there is an equality of all the religions before the law. India is a country with its age old traditions, customs and religious laws.
The arguments for UCC are its mention in Article 44 of the Constitution of India, gender equality and reforming the patriarchal personal laws. Demanding a UCC in a country like India can be seen negatively by the religious authorities because of identity politics.

Legal experts and right groups suggest amending gender discriminatory laws, rather than implementing a UCC like the Domestic Violence Act, 2005 which applies to women of all communities. A former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Krishna Murari on 17 July 2023 said 'uniformity in anyway is beneficial but before implementing UCC large scale deliberations and consultations with the general public should take place.'

Though on one hand, a UCC will lead to equality and real secularism in the country, on the other hand it will lead to protests and loss in trust on the democracy of India.

Bhartiya Janata Party is seen as most of the most prominent supporter of UCC but they have opposition from their own allies in the National Democratic Alliance, UCC is also opposed by many NGOs and organizations. A Nagaland based group warned that they will burn houses of 600 legislators in the state if UCC is implemented in the state, saying it will erode local customs and traditions of tribes.

But according to many, UCC is of an absolute necessity for individual belonging to the different religions and denominations. It is imperative for promotion of national unity and solidarity. The divergent religious ideologies must merge and culminate into common and unified principles and objectives, adhering to the true spirit of secularism.

After 75 years of independence the aspiration of a UCC is pertinent to India. But the emphasis of BJP on UCC raises many questions if the goal is to promote national integration by eliminating adherence to longstanding customs, will any community be willing to make concessions on their traditions? If the aim is to address discriminatory practices against women, why not reform the personal laws that are being misinterpreted? and most importantly how would the government of India unify the people of India with this law?

Written By: Vidya Taneja

Law Article in India

Ask A Lawyers

You May Like

Legal Question & Answers

Lawyers in India - Search By City

Copyright Filing
Online Copyright Registration


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi Mutual Consent Divorce is the Simplest Way to Obtain a D...

Increased Age For Girls Marriage


It is hoped that the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which intends to inc...

Facade of Social Media


One may very easily get absorbed in the lives of others as one scrolls through a Facebook news ...

Section 482 CrPc - Quashing Of FIR: Guid...


The Inherent power under Section 482 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (37th Chapter of t...

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India: A...


The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a concept that proposes the unification of personal laws across...

Role Of Artificial Intelligence In Legal...


Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing various sectors of the economy, and the legal i...

Lawyers Registration
Lawyers Membership - Get Clients Online

File caveat In Supreme Court Instantly