A uniform civil code here refers to a single law, applicable to all citizens of India in their personal matters such as marriage, divorce, custody, adoption, and inheritance.
It is intended to replace the system of fragmented personal laws, which currently govern interpersonal relationships and related matters within different religious communities.
The idea of universal civil code comes from Article 44 in the Constitution, which is one of the directive principles of state policy. It provides that “the State shall endeavor to secure for all citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”
UCC (Universal Civil Code) aims to provide single legislation for governing the personal matters of citizens irrespective of their religion/community. That means, one single law will apply to everyone in the issues about marriage, divorce, adoption, maintenance, inheritance, etc.
Article 14 and the Principle of Reasonable Classification:
The personal laws of different religious communities have been different in their application under a jurisprudential doctrine of Article 14, according to which it is unequal to treat unequal equally.
In simple language, it means, showing equal treatment to people who are already unequal to each other in terms of social structure amounts to inequality and hence subjecting them to uniform laws would be unjust owing to their inherent differences. Constitutionally, this is also termed as a reasonable classification.
Ambedkar on Uniform Civil Code:
“We are having this liberty to reform a social system, which is so full of inequalities, so full of inequalities, discriminations, and other things, which conflict with our fundamental rights.” By saying this Ambedkar clearly indicated that he was in favor of the Uniform Civil Code but he also added that it wasn’t an obligation on the state to do so but only a power that it may exercise for moving towards better laws.
“No one need be apprehensive that if the State has the power, the State will immediately proceed to execute…that power in a manner may be found to be objectionable by the Muslims or by the Christians or by any other community. I think it would be a mad government if it did so.” He told the constituent assembly that this power should not be exercised by force and added that it would be mad to introduce this legislation by provoking the minority communities.
To quote his words, “No government can exercise its power in such a manner as to provoke the Muslim community to rise in rebellion. I think it would be a mad government if it did so.”
Then Why Uniform Civil Code?
The present government is projecting that this legislation would promote equality by targeting to solve the unjust outcomes that result from varying religious personal laws, for example – triple talaq as was prevalent before the Shayara Bano judgment of 2017.
Other constitutional hurdles to Uniform Civil Code:
Although, UCC has the motto of promoting equality it still clashes with Article 25 of the Constitution, which makes freedom of religion a fundamental right.
This right is the basis for the existence of separate personal laws for different communities so that they can freely practice and profess their own religion.
It is worrisome that in the present scenario, India with all its religious divisions and unpleasant communal situations might not be ready for a Uniform Civil Code yet. It is highly speculated to lead to problems like the persecution of religious minorities, unjust supremacy of religious majority, and increase in religious oppression.
No doubt, this act of Uniform Civil Code might lead to widespread protests in the nation.
According to the Commission, it is in the best interest of the nation to preserve the diversity of personal laws but at the same time ensure that they do not contradict fundamental rights by urging the legislature to consider equality between all citizens first rather than equality between communities.
They project this to be a way in which some of the differences within personal laws that are meaningful can be preserved and inequality can be ruled out without absolute uniformity. But there is no explanation given as to how or in what way this might happen.