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Fall in line: The UCC mantra

Fall in line: The UCC mantra

Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami during a special session of the State Assembly in Dehradun on Feb 7. (PTI)

CHENNAI: The Uttarakhand Assembly recently passed the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill, which may serve as a template for other BJP-run states like Gujarat and Assam to enact similar legislation. The bill will now be sent to the President for her assent after which it will become a law.

Coming ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the move ticks off an important item on BJP’s ideological agenda – a common law on marriage, divorce, land, property and inheritance for all citizens, irrespective of religion. Uttarakhand is now set to become the first state after Independence to get a common law on the aforementioned aspects.

Tribals have been exempted from the purview of the Billkeeping in mind the conservation of their traditions, practices and rituals.

Opposition members have argued against the implementation. A concern raised by a member of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) is that the Constitution grants citizens religious freedom. If UCC is implemented in the hill state, the people can choose whether they want to follow the law as per the UCC or as per their religion (personal law). Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution guarantees a person the freedom to adopt a religious life as long as it doesn’t conflict with any fundamental rights. It has also been posited that the government cannot “impose” UCC unless it changes the Constitution completely.

A controversial aspect of that bill is the registration of live-in relationships. It stipulates a penalty if the partners do not submit a statement on their relationship to the registrar within a month. It could get complicated if the couple ends up splitting, in which case, there is a provision to terminate a live-in relationship. Commentators say that with the UCC, the government has begun entering the private spaces of citizens, and it’s a formula to build a test lab for a Hindutva-centric theocratic state. The UCC might sound good as a concept, but implementing it requires the removal of anomalies present in all religions and practices.

Take for instance, the notion of the Hindu Undivided Family (HUF). Questions were raised whether HUF will remain within the ambit of UCC or will it be removed? In certain parts of India, marriages between first cousins are solemnised; at times, uncles end up marrying nieces. Will such practices be outlawed once and for all? The bill effectively bans polygamy and ‘halala’ practised among a section of Muslims as well. That essentially has set off another round of counter-arguments from the minority community. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind has categorically said that Muslims cannot accept any law against the Sharia and that if the tribals can be exempted from it, then why not members of the minority community under the provisions of religious freedom. Interestingly, Islamic countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Turkey, Indonesia, and Egypt have implemented the UCC.

Needless to say, there are 392 sections in the bill running into 172 pages. It might have been ideal if along with the expert committee, theologists of different religions were also included in the discussions that were held prior to drafting the bill. In a pluralistic country like India, different religions have varied civil laws and the enforcement of a one-size fits all law needs to be done only after taking into consideration the interests of all those who are affected.

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