On UCC, ensure a just outcome

On UCC, ensure a just outcome

Ahead of the 2024 general elections, the fractious question of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) appears set to snowball into a major political controversy. First, the Law Commission announced that it is seeking views and suggestions on UCC. Then, on Tuesday, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi made a forceful push for a common code. At a meeting of party workers, the PM addressed Muslim “brothers and sisters” and said political parties were trying to provoke them for electoral reasons. “You tell me, if there is one law for one person in a home, and another law for another person, can that house function?” Mr Modi asked.

The fractious question of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) appears set to snowball into a major political controversy.(representational Pic)

The debate around UCC is tied to colonial roots. In the 18th century, the British codified, and consequently ossified, personal laws governing various communities, cutting off natural processes of evolution of regulations and making them subject to the whims of powerful figures within these groups. At the moment of Independence, therefore, the discussion around a common code for a newly free country, was both sharp and anxious. The Constituent Assembly chose to strike a balance between the reformers and the conservatives, categorising UCC as a non-justiciable right, and placing it among the directive principles of State policy. Any subsequent debate on the issue, unfortunately, has found itself hopelessly polarised, always politicised ahead of elections.

Beyond the rhetoric, though, at the core of the debate are two genuine impulses – one that hopes to preserve unique facets of particular communities and fears that a uniform code will become a blueprint for the dominant group’s laws to subsume all other, and another that argues that diversity is a misguided reason to excuse abhorrent practices, especially ones that subjugate women in matters of marriages, divorces, inheritance and maintenance. But these two instincts are not incompatible, but merely point out that the focus should be on creating a more gender-just code and ensuring that no personal law is allowed to violate the basic rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Once that baseline is established, the administration will do well to take all communities on board, hold broad discussions and sift through legal and historical records. As Constituent Assembly member Naziruddin Ahmad said, “ We should proceed not in haste but with caution, with experience, with statesmanship and with sympathy.” And those are the motives that should guide the process, not politics.

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