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Will the Uttarakhand UCC Bill Achieve Equality in India?

A new wave of controversy is brewing in India with the introduction of the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Bill 2024, also known as the Uttarakhand UCC Bill. This bill proposes implementing a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the state, sparking debates about religious identity and personal laws.

The UCC aims to have a common set of civil laws governing marriage, inheritance, adoption, and property rights across religions. While some hail it as a step towards gender equality and national integration, others fear it undermines religious customs and traditions. The upcoming battle over the Uttarakhand UCC Bill promises to be a complex and closely watched event.

The Uniform Civil Code is a proposal in India to create and enforce personal laws for individuals that apply equally to all people no matter their religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Currently, personal laws in diverse societies are governed by religious scriptures. The implementation of a uniform civil code across the country is one of the contested commitments made by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Personal laws are distinct from public law and regulate marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, and maintenance. The Indian Constitution’s Articles 25ā€“28, however, grant Indian citizens the right to practice their religion freely, and for religious organizations to maintain their affairs. When creating national policy, the Indian state is bound by Article 44 of the constitution to consider common law and directive principles for all Indian citizens.

The UCC is intended to replace several laws that are currently important for different communities but are inconsistent with one another. These laws include the Hindu Marriage Act, Hindu Succession Act, Indian Christian Marriages Act, Indian Divorce Act, and the Parsi Marriage and Divorce Act.

History of UCC Bill (Uniform Civil Code)

Personal laws were initially introduced during the British Raj, mostly for Hindu and Muslim citizens. The Indian state of Goa, which separated from India due to colonial rule in earlier Portuguese Goa and Daman, maintained a single family law known as the Goa civil code and was therefore the only state in India with a consistent civil code until February 7, 2024.

During the 1948-1951 and 1951-1954 sessions, the Indian Parliament discussed the Hindu Law Committee’s report. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, and his followers, including women, desired the implementation of a standard civil code. As Law Minister, B. R. Ambedkar was in charge of presenting the details of this law. The Shashtras contained monogamy, divorce, and the widow’s ability to inherit property, hence orthodox Hindu rules were decided to be supportive of women’s rights. Ambedkar urged the implementation of a unified civil code, but he resigned after receiving severe criticism in parliament.

The Nehru administration thenĀ adopted theĀ Hindu code, which would ensure theĀ modernization of Indian society. Following the Shah Bano case in 1985, UCC became an important topic of discussion in Indian politics. The debate then shifted to Muslim Personal Law, which is partially based on Sharia law and allows for unilateral divorce and polygamy while also legally applying Sharia law.

Uttarakhand UCC Bill Current Status

UCC was proposed twice, between November 2019 and March 2020, but was removed before becoming introduced in parliament. After Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeated calls for the adoption of a Uniform Civil Code in June 2023, many opposition parties and the BJP’s allies in the NDA, particularly those from Northeast India, have opposed it, claiming it will go contrary to the “idea of India” and end special privileges for tribal communities.

Advantages of the Uttarakhand UCC Bill

  1. To grant equal rights to all citizens: In the 21st century, a secular democratic nation should include equal civil and personal rules for all citizens, no matter their religion, class, caste, or gender.
  2. To promote gender equality: It is generally accepted that practically all faith laws discriminate against women. When it comes to succession and inheritance, men usually have an advantage. A universal civil code will bring men and women equality.
  3. To promote national integration: All Indian citizens are currently equal before the courts because criminal and civil laws (except personal laws) apply to everyone. With the adoption of the Uniform Civil Code, all citizens will be governed by the same set of personal laws. There will be no space for promoting concerns of discrimination, compromises, or special benefits enjoyed by a specific population based on their religious personal laws.

Disadvantages of the Uttarakhand UCC Bill

  1. Practical issues arise from India’s diversity: Because of India’s vast cultural diversity among religions, sects, castes, and states, it is almost impossible to develop a standard and uniform set of laws for personal concerns such as marriage.
  2. Perception of UCC as a threat to religious freedom: Many populations, particularly minority ones, see the Uniform Civil Code as an attack on their right to religious freedom. They worry that a common code will ignore their traditions and impose regulations that are primarily dictated and guided by the vast majority of religious groups.
  3. Interference by the state in private matters: The constitution guarantees the right to practice one’s preferred religion freely. The scope of religious freedom will be limited when uniform rules are established and implemented.

Key Highlights of Uttarakhand UCC Bill

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