Is India Ready For Uniform Civil Code in 2022 after 75 years of Independence?

Is India Ready For Uniform Civil Code in 2022 after 75 years of Independence?

In 1948, when the Constitution of India was being framed and the values of pluralism were being discussed, one social reform became a bone of contention. It divided the constituent assembly, and they discussed for months, but they could not reach a consensus. Finally, they had to settle for a compromise.

This was regarding Uniform Civil Code—one civil code common to all. It would have meant the abolition of personal laws.

Personal laws are laws based on scriptures and religious text. In the ancient times, they regulated almost every aspect of life—marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, guardianship.

A lot of these laws were discriminatory and unfair towards women. The Sharia law had provisions that deprived women of inheritance. Some Hindu customs deprived women from remarriage.

The constituent assembly wanted to abolish such laws and replace it with a law applied uniformly to all citizens irrespective of their religion, gender, or sexual orientation—one nation, one law. But this did not happen.

The Uniform civil code was not adopted in the constitution because India’s religious, ethnic, linguistic and socio-cultural diversity seemed very difficult to be governed by one set of laws without hurting sentiments.

Moreover, there was immense opposition to uniform civil code from both sides—Islamic fundamentalists and orthodox Hindus. They wanted sharia and shastras to determine personal laws. They feared UCC would open a Pandora’s box.

It would diminish their authority. They proclaimed it as a threat to religious freedom. They issued warnings of social unrest in the country.

The founding fathers of the Constitution retreated and made the UCC optional by putting it under the directive principles of state policy, which meant that it was not binding on the state to implement it. They decided to wait when India was ready to adopt it.

Seven decades have passed. It is still a proposal and still controversial. We will be completing 75 years of independence this August. Is it time for India to have a UCC—one law for all?

Historians trace back the theory of UCC to the Roman empire who governed themselves using a civil law rather than any holy text.

The Mesopotamians did the same following the code of Ur-Nammu, which encouraged people to think of themselves as one family governed by one set of rules. Even the American constitution provides for one law for all, and they all follow the same law.

India, despite being a democracy, is an exception in this regard. Laws in India, especially when it comes to property and inheritance rights, are based on religion, caste, and geography.

Northeastern states like Nagaland, Meghalaya and Mizoram are not governed by mainstream laws. They make their own personal laws based on their customs and practices, which are completely outdated in the modern world. These laws are said to preserve the culture of these states.

Certain personal laws related to Muslims are decided by the Quran. They pertain to marriage, divorce, inheritance and custody of children.

A woman’s right to alimony is determined as per the sharia and so also inheritance and her right to adopt a child. All of these leaves the Muslim women at the mercy of the Muslim Personal Law Board, which is run mostly by men under the guidance of the clerics.

The British supported its formation as it helped their policy of divide and rule in order to keep India under their control. The British used it to their advantage.

The founding fathers of the country wanted to get rid of personal laws. Prime Minister Nehru felt that the Muslims who stayed back would feel insecure if an UCC was implemented immediately. Hence, the UCC was put under the directive principles of state policy, which could be implemented when the citizenry was ready for it.

A Hindu code bill was put in place which abolished some of the personal laws of the Hindus and codified procedures pertaining to marriage, divorce, maintenance etc. This led to the rise of a sentiment in India that the state is indulging in minority appeasement.

The matter got mainstreamed during the late 80’s in the wake of the Shah Bano case when it became a political issue and polarized the electorate on religious lines.

Shah Bano was denied alimony by her husband who divorced her using triple talaq after he was married to her for 40 years. According to Muslim law, she was entitled to only three months of alimony.

Shah Bano approached the Supreme Court which awarded the verdict in her favor granting her maintenance as long as she lived. Muslim clerics and politicians protested stating that the verdict was in conflict with Islamic law. They took to the streets against the verdict and emotions ran high.

The political leadership at the time, headed by Rajiv Gandhi who was then the Prime Minister, meekly surrendered to the protests fearing widespread violence and overturned the supreme court verdict by passing Muslim Women Protection Act 1986, which restricted the alimony to 90 days. Since then, there have been many court battles fought on this issue. The matter has not been resolved due to lack of political will.


This enraged the right-wing Hindutva lobby of Indian politics, and they started agitation against the appeasement of the minorities. The BJP in particular took up the cudgels by promising in its manifesto that if voted to power it will implement UCC. The BJP has been running the government for the past eight years, since 2014, with Narendra Modi heading it as the Prime Minister, but they have not introduced any bill in the parliament to this effect. The BJP says it is committed to it and will keep its promise as they have done in the case of Ram temple and Article 370.

Critics, however, opine differently on this issue. They see it as a move against secularism, and a concerted effort by the BJP to impose majority Hindu view on everybody.

Islamic organisations like Deoband have passed resolutions against UCC. Muslim political party like AIMIM have stated that they do not support it. Even tribal communities in the Northeast are against it.

The proponents of the UCC do not agree to these allegations and contend that it will bring uniformity in the country and thereby promote national integrity. It will uplift women and oppressed religious communities. They point to the state of Goa. It is the only state in India with a UCC. Goa was under Portuguese control until 1961. They introduced a civil code applicable to all. It is still in force. Some Islamic countries like Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco have codified personal laws as per their constitution. Turkey and Tunisia have abolished polygamy. Jordan and Egypt have banned triple talaq.

If Muslim countries can reform personal laws and if Western democracies can follow a common civil code, then why India, one of the most civilized nations on the planet, is still living under archaic laws? Is it not time for India to unite under one law? It makes sense. We can bring experts from all communities and put in place a UCC that has the consent of all the stakeholders. As they say, better late than never.

edited and proofread by nikita sharma

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button