New Delhi: The Uttarakhand assembly passed the Uniform Civil Code Bill on February 7 (Wednesday), aimed at replacing the religious personal laws governing marriage, relationships, and inheritance, among other issues.
With this, it becomes the first state to implement the Uniform Civil Code.
The move comes just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. It’s a crucial item on the Bharatiya Janata Party’s agenda.
“After independence, the makers of the Constitution gave the right under Article 44 that the states can also introduce the UCC at appropriate time… People have doubts regarding this. We made the draft as per the constitutional system,” chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said in the assembly.
The opposing views
Uttarakhand leader of opposition Yashpal Arya said that the opposition should have been given some time to prepare to debate before passing the Bill.
“What’s the haste behind implementing it? We have sufficient time,” he said.
“They expect us to read such a lengthy document, which was submitted a couple of days ago, and start the discussion. It looks like the government is trying to hide something,” he said.
“You have full majority to pass the Bill, but it would have been better to give the Opposition some time to prepare,” he added.
In a post on X (formerly Twitter), he pointed out that the government formed the Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai Committee to develop a Uniform Civil Code. However, despite submitting its report within 13 months, the committee did not publicly disclose its blueprint or engage with social groups or political parties.
He further said that this lack of transparency prevented stakeholders, including the Congress party, from providing inputs.
“The Congress party wrote letters to the committee twice, asking for the draft, but the committee did not give any reply. In a country where many laws, including criminal laws, are still not uniform, how can anyone give their views on the Uniform Civil Code on the basis of imagination only? If the committee had given a blueprint, many practical and valuable ideas would have come to the fore,” he wrote on X in Hindi.
He further said, “It has come to light through the press that your law is a Bill brought with the aim of providing gender equality to women. If so, then why are you keeping the Scheduled Tribe women of Uttarakhand away from this equality right? Were the women belonging to 4% of the state’s population not entitled to your so-called gender equality?”
सरकार ने समान नागरिक संहिता के लिए जस्टिस रंजना प्रकाश देसाई समिति का गठन किया। 13 महिनों में इस समिति ने आपकी सरकार को रिपोर्ट सोंप दी। समिति ने दौरे किए, लोगों से मिली, राय ली आनलाइन भी विचार लिए। लेकिन क्या कहीं पर समिति ने सार्वजनिक रुप से विभिन्न समामाजिक समूहों या राजनीतिक… pic.twitter.com/nt1BjIZzvh
— Yashpal Arya (@IamYashpalArya) February 7, 2024
In a statement, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board said the proposed law on the Uniform Civil Code is “inappropriate, unnecessary and against the diversity”.
“It has been rushed to gain political advantage. It is a mere eyewash and nothing more than a political propaganda,” it said.
“While Scheduled Tribes are already excluded in this law, for all other communities, provisions are included to provide for their customs and usages. For example, while the law provides degrees of prohibited relationships, in which marriages cannot be solemnised, it also provides that such rule is not applicable if the customs and usages of the parties permit otherwise. The question that begs for an answer is, where is the uniformity then?” read the statement.
Spokesperson S.Q.R. Ilyas said that “it is also important to clarify that last July, the country’s minorities, Dalits and Adivasis, held a joint press conference and rejected the Uniform Civil Code by saying that it was given by the Constitution of India. It is against fundamental rights and against religious and cultural diversity. The Scheduled Tribes have been exempted from the proposed Act, then how can it be declared a Uniform Civil Code, when the state has a significant population of tribals and many exemptions have been given to the majority section, which makes it a candidate. It happens that the real target of the law is only Muslims.”
Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind said Muslims won’t be able to compromise on Shariah.
“We cannot accept any law that is against Shariah because a Muslim can compromise with everything, but he or she can never compromise on Shariah and religion,” said the body.
Trinamool Congress’s Saket Gokhale criticised the rules for couples in a live-in relationship, saying that the “BJP has now stepped into people’s bedrooms.”
In a post on X, the TMC leader said, “This shocking provision also means that a man and a woman merely living together will have to prove that they’re not in a live-in relationship in case some vigilante or lunatic files a complaint. The BJP has now stepped into your bedrooms and can investigate you whenever it feels like.”
This shocking provision also means that a man & a woman merely living together will have to prove that they’re NOT in a live-in relationship in case some vigilante or lunatic files a complaint.
BJP has now stepped into your bedrooms & can investigate you whenever it feels like. pic.twitter.com/OvN0kgVQRV
— Saket Gokhale (@SaketGokhale) February 6, 2024
Congress leader Shama Mohamed also said that the Bill was a “shameful attempt by the BJP government to barge into the personal life of consenting adults”.
Uttarakhand women’s groups have released a statement, saying, “While seemingly being uniform across religions, the Bill is actually criminalising and regulating constitutionally acceptable behaviours, like adult consenting cohabitation, called “live in’, reducing autonomy and choice, which the women in this country have attained through concerted , inside the homes and on public platforms. Moral policing measures have been introduced in this regard. What is shocking is that this law is applicable even to those living outside Uttarakhand, apart from being applicable on all residents of the state including those who do not have a domicile.”
“Interestingly, there is a glaring silence about the rights of queer and transgender persons within a family and the rights of transgender and same sex persons to marry,” read the statement.
“Majorly, it seeks to introduce changes in the provisions that are perceived as defective in the Muslim law, such as unequal inheritance, polygamy and the practice of halala (by which a person can only remarry his divorced spouse after she has married someone else, consummated the marriage and thereafter obtained a divorce). In one sense, the Bill has terminated the application of Muslim family law and has further criminalised the Muslim man and woman,” it said.
The rules under the Uniform Civil Code
The Bill has fixed the minimum age for marriage in all communities – 18 for women, 21 for men.
It mandates compulsory registration of live-in relationships and punishment of three to six months in jail for failing to do so. Adults will be required to obtain consent from their parents.
Children born of live-in relationships will be considered legitimate and deserted women will be entitled to maintenance from their partners.
The Bill also imposes a complete ban on child marriage and introduces a uniform process for divorce. The Code provides equal rights to women of all religions in their ancestral property.
The registration of marriage is mandatory for all religions. Unions without registration will be deemed to be invalid.