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India’s Multicultural Challenge: The Uniform Civil Code

Context

The Law Commission of India is seeking public input on the Uniform Civil Code in this context.

Relevance

GS Paper 2 – Directive Principles of State Policy, Civil Laws in the Country

Mains Question

Talk about the Uniform Civil Code’s (UCC) relevance and historical context in India. How has the conflict between individual freedom and governmental control influenced the conversation surrounding the UCC? Analyse the most significant legal decisions and advancements concerning the UCC in India. (150 words)


What’s going on?

The Law Commission of India has revisited the topic after coming to the prior decision that the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is superfluous and undesirable. One of India’s most contentious and politically charged issues has been revived by this action. While recognising the potential advantages of gradually adopting the UCC, it is vital to take a critical factor into account when the Commission starts its new endeavour.

What is the Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a proposed single legislation for India that would govern marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption for all religious sects. This code is based on Article 44 of the Indian Constitution, which mandates that the government work to create a Uniform Civil Code that applies to all citizens nationwide.

Autonomy versus Authority

The conflict between personal and religious autonomy and the state’s right to reshape family relationships is at the centre of the discussion surrounding personal laws. The argument put forth by supporters is that each religious organisation should start reforms inside their own neighbourhood, encouraging internal legal reform or a voluntary adoption of the UCC. The Special Marriage Act, a recent example of voluntary UCC adoption, runs counter to the spirit of some recent laws, such as the love jihad laws. Regional differences also occur; for example, Kerala abolished the Hindu Joint Family in 1975, and various states have distinct laws governing Muslim weddings and divorces.

Do you know:

  • The British administration issued a study in 1835 emphasising the need for uniformity in the coding of Indian law, omitting personal laws of Hindus and Muslims from such codification. This report is where the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) first emerged.
  • The B N Rau Committee, tasked with codifying Hindu law, was established in 1941 as a result of the expansion of personal law near the end of British rule.
  • The committee’s recommendations led to the 1956 adoption of the Hindu Succession Act, which codified and amended the laws governing intestate succession among Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, and Sikhs.However, there were different personal laws for Muslims, Christians, and Parsis, which resulted in a lack of consistency in personal laws.
  • Courts have emphasised the necessity of a UCC and urged the government to strive towards its adoption in a number of judgements.
  • The Shah Bano case, which received a lot of attention in 1985, and the Sarla Mudgal case, which addressed the clash between personal laws relating to marriage and the issue of bigamy, are notable examples highlighting the subject.
  • The government has stated that practises like triple talaq and polygamy violate a woman’s right to a life of dignity, which raises the question of whether religious practises that go against fundamental rights should be covered by the constitution’s protections.

Religious Identity and Personal Laws

Personal laws currently apply to all religious groups, including Muslims but also Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs, Parsis, and Jews. Which personal law is applicable to an individual depends on their religious affiliation. Even the revised Hindu Personal Law promulgated by the Hindu Marriage Act of 1955 stipulates particular marriage ceremonies and incorporates ideas from antiquated works like the Manusmriti. Interestingly, while two Muslims marrying under the same legislation are no longer subject to Muslim Personal Law, two Hindus married under the Special Marriage Act continue to be controlled by Hindu Personal Law. Hindu Personal Law still applies to anyone who renounces his Hinduism.

Constitutional Structure:

As a culmination of India’s integrative traditions, the Indian Constitution protects cultural accommodation through clauses in Article 29(1) that forbid discrimination and ensure the preservation of various cultures. It is crucial to consider whether Indian Muslims can honestly claim that customs like polygamy and arbitrary unilateral divorce, even when done in a fit of rage or drunkenness. In a diverse and multicultural country like India, it is also critical to strike a balance between conserving multicultural diversity and promoting unity. While ignoring the variability within these populations, British colonial rule encouraged homogeneity among Hindus and Muslims.

The Indian Constitution provides two strategies for accommodating difference:

Integrationist multiculturalism and restricted multiculturalism. Although affirmative action laws support the integrationist philosophy, official support for minority cultures is frequently viewed as an illegal concession or as “appeasement.” As a result, there are no strong constitutional rules to support cultural distinctions. Therefore, rather than aiming for equality between communities, the focus should be on establishing equality between men and women inside communities. A just legal system that promotes justice and equality is more important than a simple uniform rule of law.

What is Multiculturalism

  • Multiculturalism refers to a society’s approach to addressing cultural diversity on both a national and local level.Sociologically, multiculturalism makes the assumption that more diversity results from the peaceful coexistence of various civilizations.Usually, one of the two theories—the “melting pot” idea or the “salad bowl” hypothesis—explains how multiculturalism arises.
  • Multiculturalism can exist at the national level or in local communities within a country. It can happen either spontaneously through immigration or intentionally when diverse cultural jurisdictions are brought together by legislative edict.

Conclusion:

  • It is crucial to take personal laws and practises into account in order to preserve India’s multicultural variety.Cultural relativism is insufficient to defend the retention of unfair and discriminatory rules. The Law Commission needs to proceed cautiously and watch out that its suggestions don’t encourage reactionary culturalism among various communities, especially Muslims.
  • While acknowledging the historical and legal effects on Muslim Personal Law, the Muslim community should make a distinction between MPL and Islam itself. Reforming the MPL’s discriminatory provisions and embracing the opinions of progressive jurists are two ways to advance.
  • In order to revamp socio-religious-cultural practises and embrace secularisation, a delicate balance must be struck between maintaining traditional practises and adhering to constitutional requirements.
  • According to political philosopher Iris Young, the value of social difference is relational and shaped by social processes, hence the Commission must only ban practises that are in violation of the law’s standards.

 


June 2024
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