On February 6, 2024, the Uttarakhand government introduced legislation about the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the State Assembly. Leading the charge in this initiative, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami stated that the proposed UCC will not only be "for the good of all sections" but also complement the goals of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Ek Bharat, Sreshtha Bharat" and "Sab ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas" initiatives.
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What is the Uniform Civil Code Bill?
The idea of replacing individual laws derived from the religious texts and practices of different Indian tribes with a single set of laws that apply to all citizens equally is known as the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The goal is to create a unified code of conduct that would govern all residents, regardless of their religious beliefs, and address issues like adoption, divorce, marriage, and inheritance.
The discussion of a Uniform Civil Code has been going on for a long time in India. Article 44 of the Indian Constitution mandates that the State work to ensure that all Indian people have access to a Uniform Civil Code.
However, because of the nation's different religious and cultural norms, putting into reality a Uniform Civil Code has proven to be a difficult and divisive problem.
The idea of enacting a Uniform Civil Code has been explored and pondered by several governments, although opposition to the idea has frequently come from various religious and cultural organizations. Promoting gender equality and a more cohesive judicial system for all citizens are the goals.
On February 6, 2024, Uttarakhand took the lead and introduced the Uniform Civil Code Bill as the first state.
Uniform Civil Code: Supreme Court’s take so far
In several of its decisions after resolving the Shah Bano Case in 1985, the Supreme Court has highlighted UCC. The highest court has constantly argued that consistency should be pursued by Article 44, but it has also abstained from imposing any orders, emphasizing that Parliament alone has the authority to enact laws.
Article 44 of the Indian Constitution was labeled as a ‘dead letter’ in the famous Shah Bano case by the Supreme Court of India. A common civil code will promote national unification by eliminating divergent allegiances to laws with opposed philosophies. Again, the court emphasized the need for UCC in the Sarla Mudgal case (1995), which dealt with bigamy and conflicts between existing personal laws regarding marriage. The court stated that until a common law was enacted, there would always be a loophole because different faiths had different beliefs.
Uttarakhand’s UCC Bill: Key Takeaways
A unified divorce process, a standardized marriageable age for girls of all faiths, and a total prohibition on polygamy and child marriage are only a few of the numerous ideas in the UCC.
The UCC draft addresses several civil life issues, including inheritance rights, marriage registration requirements, and raising the marriageable age of girls to encourage them to pursue higher education before marriage. Moreover, in an apparent attempt to comply with legal requirements, couples who opt not to register their nuptials will not be allowed to utilize government facilities.
Adoption rights are transcending religious boundaries and are available to all persons, particularly Muslim women, under the planned Uttarakhand UCC. It seeks to promote live-in declarations, expedite adoption procedures, and abolish Islamic traditions like halala and iddat, which a woman is required to follow following the death of her spouse or divorce.
The proposed UCC's implementation will need the legal registration of cohabitation. According to legal experts, men and women would both profit from such relationships being registered.
Population control measures and the Scheduled Tribes, who make up 3% of Uttarakhand's total population, are not included in the draft.
Notable features of the UCC include the elimination of discrimination between biological and adopted children, equal property rights for sons and daughters, and treatment of all groups equally. Equal property rights for parents, children, and spouses in the event of a person's death are guaranteed by the proposed UCC, in contrast to previous laws that limited these rights.
The Uttarakhand State Government led by Pushkar Singh Dhami, through the planned Uniform Civil Code (UCC), Uttarakhand, 2024, expressed its intention to provide a comprehensive legal framework that would regulate personal affairs such as marriage, divorce, cohabitation, and inheritance, irrespective of religious beliefs.
Together with giving legal legitimacy to live-in relationships for the first time, the bill also proposes an official state government system for the mandatory registration of weddings. This legislation allows for both the registration and dissolution of live-in relationships. Interestingly, the measure makes it illegal to be in a live-in relationship for longer than a month without getting a permit; this offense carries a maximum three-month jail sentence.
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