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Uniform Civil Code (under Article 44)

What is the Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?

A Uniform Civil Code in a country ensures uniform rules for all people of the country irrespective of their caste, culture, religion, and tribe. It is specified under the Directive principles of the Indian Constitution as “The State shall endeavor to secure for citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” In India, Goa is the only state which has the Uniform Civil Code, which is called the “Goa Civil Code” or the “Goa Family Law”.

Why is the Uniform Civil Code a topic of discussion?

The debate on the adoption of the Uniform Civil Code throughout the country stems from the days when Dr. B.R Ambedkar was part of the Constituent Assembly. He had argued that Uniform Civil code should be followed by all people of the country but was opposed by the leaders of the major religious communities who were in favor of the personal law. Personal laws are laws pertaining to a particular religious group or community relating to their internal value system and beliefs.  This failure to reach consensus resulted in the Uniform Civil Code to be part of the Directive Principles of State Policy instead of the Fundamental Rights.

The famous Shah Bano Case

The Uniform Civil Code became the most controversial topic of discussion when the Mohd. Ahmad Khan Vs Shah Bano Begum case also called the Shah Bano Case took place in 1985. This case was one of the milestones in the fight for rights for Muslim women.

What is the Shah Bano Case?

Shah Bano case was the one in which the Supreme Court went in favor of a non-working Muslim woman –Shah Bano and granted her Justice. Mr Y.V Chandrachund, D.A. Desai, O.Chinnappa Reddy, E.S Venkataramiah, and Rangnath Misra were part of the Judges Bench.

Mohammed Ahmad Khan, who was a famous lawyer in Indore, Madhya Pradesh had married Shah Bano Begum in 1932 and the couple had 5 children, 3 sons and 2 daughters, from the marriage. After 14 years of marriage, Mohd. Ahmad Khan married another woman. He disowned Shah Bano Begum in 1975 and asked her to leave the house along with the children. Shah Bano was 62 years of age at the time.

In April 1978, Shah Bano filed a petition in court under Section 123 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, demanding maintenance from her estranged husband which he had denied. However, Mohd Ahmad Khan argued the case using the Muslim Personal Law, which stated that Muslim men who are divorced, would only provide maintenance for the Iddat period after the divorce. The All India Muslim Personal Law board came in favor of Mohd. Ahmad Khan and stated that the court cannot violate the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937. The board said that the court can give judgment on such matters based on only the Shariat Act.

Finally, in 1985, the Supreme Court gave judgment in favor of Shah bano. The Supreme Court Judge Mr. Y.V. Chandrachud laid out in his verdict that the husband is liable to provide maintenance to his wife if the wife is unable to fend for herself.

However, in the Rajiv Gandhi Government, which came to power in 1984, the Muslim Women (Protection of rights of Divorce Act), 1986 was passed. This act stated that a Muslim husband will provide maintenance to his divorced wife only until the iddat period.

Shah Bano later withdrew the maintenance claim.

This case was a landmark in the history and proved to be a major turning point for gender equality and rights of women particularly in case of marriage. It also dealt with the need to implement the Uniform Civil Code over and above personal Laws.

  1. Promotes equality among citizens: irrespective of caste, culture or creed, the same laws shoBanobe applicable on all citizens of India.
  2. Promotes gender equality: Women are no less than men and now even the law can be used to prove that. In matters of inheritance, status and respect, women are given equal place.
  3. Amendment of existing personal laws is a controversial and serious topic which should be dealt with utmost care and concern. If the Uniform Civil code is implemented it will bypass the personal laws.
  4. Promotes national integration: All people can come together and fight for a common cause which is of paramount importance rather than fighting over issues related to personal laws.
Disadvantages of Uniform Civil Code
  1. The government will interfere with personal freedom (in terms of personal laws )enjoyed by people of every caste, culture and creed.
  2. Communal harmony may not be maintained due to various tensions over petty matters.
  3. India is a diverse country and the beauty of democracy lies in the diverse Indian culture.

Uniform Civil code was a key promise by the BJP in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It hasn’t come into effect till now and chances are that it will continue like this. In 2017, the Supreme Court stated that the practice of Triple Talaq was against the Indian Constitution Article 14 and 21 and hence it banned it any form, in writing or vocal. This was the first step towards amendments in personal laws which are both derogatory for women rights as well as the Indian Constitution.

The Law Commission has asked for amendments in personal laws of major religious communities rather than implementing a Uniform Civil Code.