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Approach:

  1. Introduction about UCC.
  2. Mention the current state of UCC in India.
  3. List out the judicial pronouncements.
  4. Conclusion – approach to deal with the issue.

Presently, different aspects of personal lives like marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption and maintenance are governed by the personal laws. The personal laws are based on the scriptures & customs of the religions and so, are different for religious communities. Uniform Civil Code (UCC) will replace these personal laws by bringing a uniform civil law. The uniform law will be applicable to all the citizens irrespective of religion.

The demand for a UCC was first put forward by women activists in the beginning of the 20th century, with the objective to secure women’s rights, equality and secularism. Article 44 in the DPSP lays down that the state shall endeavour to secure a UCC for the citizens throughout the territory of India.

Present status of UCC in India:

In furtherance of the constitutional goal, Parliament enacted the Special Marriage Act, 1954. However, it didn’t replace any community-specific law. Any man and woman, whether professing the same or different religions, could opt for a civil marriage. Existing religious marriages could also be voluntarily converted into civil marriages by registration under the Act. Section 21 of the Act laid down that all couples married under its provisions and their descendants will be governed by the secular chapter on inheritance in the Indian Succession Act of 1925. So, the Special Marriage Act and the Indian Succession Act together constitute a kind of UCC of optional nature for all Indians.

When Goa, Daman and Diu were liberated from Portuguese in the early 1960s, a Parliamentary law had provided for continued application of the Portuguese Civil Code, 1867. Similarly, in Puducherry, a sizable section of citizens called Renoncants are still governed by the 218-year old French Civil Code,1804.

However, most aspects continue to be governed by personal laws like Hindu Marriage Act (1955), a Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act (1937), a Christian Marriage Act (1872) and a Parsee Marriage and Divorce Act (1937). Hindu Marriage Act applies to any person who is a Hindu, Buddhist, Jain or Sikh by religion.

Judicial pronouncements w.r.t UCC:

  • Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985): The Supreme Court directed the Government to enact a UCC. The SC observed that UCC will help the cause of national integration.
  • Sarla Mudgal v. Union of India (1995): The Supreme Court directed the Government to reflect the steps taken towards securing a UCC for the citizens.
  • Pannalal Bansilal Patil v. State of Andhra Pradesh (1996): The Supreme Court observed that while a uniform law is desirable, its enactment in one go might be counter-productive to the unity and integrity of the nation. Gradual progressive change should be brought about.
  • John Vallamattom v. Union of India (2003): The Supreme Court held that there is no necessary connection between religious & personal laws in a civilized society. Matters of secular character like marriage cannot be brought under the guarantee given by Article 25 and 26.

So, major awareness efforts are needed to reform the current system of personal laws. This should be initiated by the communities themselves. Legal recourse can be taken only if a practice violates the fundamental rights of citizens. Secondly, the social transformation from diverse civil code to uniformity should be gradual. Therefore, the government must adopt a piecemeal approach and restrain implementing a single legislation. Matters related to marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc. can be dealt separately taking one issue at a time.

Thirdly, there should be an in-depth study and wider consultation involving all stakeholders including academia, constitutional experts, religious and political leadership. This will ensure better formulation with greater acceptability. Lastly, the Law Commission’s recommendations should be adopted in letter & spirit.

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