By: Shikhar Singh
Religion is a matter of belief or faith. The constitution of India recognizes the fact, of how important religion is in the life of the people of India and hence, provides for the right to freedom of religion under Articles 25 to Article 28. The Constitution of India envisages a secular model and provides that every person has the right and freedom to choose and practice his or her religion. In several cases, the Apex Court has held that secularism is the basic structure of the Constitution, the most important being the Kesavananda Bharati case. People in India mainly practice Islam, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism and, Christianity.
In India, there are religion-specific laws and Goa is the only state to have a Uniform Civil Code known as the Goa Civil Code. The Constitution supports religious harmony which means the people of India show love and affection to different religions of the country. The law does not permit any citizen to impose his religious views or opinions on other individuals.
Every citizen is expected to preach his religion rationally. Immersing in immoral and illegal activities in the name of religion and disturbing the order and unity of the country is not permissible. No citizen would go scot-free if he is found guilty of committing any kind of evil or dishonest activities on the ground of following the norms and rituals of his religion. The law does not grant permission to any person of conducting their religious practices according to their whims and fancies, such permission would result in the creation of a situation of outrage, chaos and animosity.
It is an undeniable fact that every individual has their ways and means to practise his respective religion, but it shouldn’t proceed haphazardly. An individual is not answerable to State for the variety of his religious views. The right of worship was granted by God for man to worship as he pleased. Law cannot compel any individual to practise a particular form of worship. But undoubtedly the law has the right to cease the practice of any kind of malicious and corrupt religious activities being carried on, to maintain order and discipline in the country.
When a person adopts an illegal way of practising or promoting his religion, it sets a bad example for the existing masses as it conveys to them that everyone is entitled to exercise the freedom of religion allocated to them, in any manner even though it might be unlawful and unethical in the eyes of law. Every religion has its code of conduct, rituals, ceremonies modes of worship etc, but while following and obeying the same an individual should take into account that decency and morality are maintained.
He needs to be aware that the religious activities he resorts to do not give rise to any kind of conflict and cause the destruction of the property and life of the people in the society. Law will take the requisite steps and measures if any acts endangering the safety and unity of the country are projected in its eyes.
What is Uniform Civil Code?
Article 44 of the Directive Principles in the Constitution says the “State shall endeavour to provide for its citizens a uniform civil code (UCC) throughout the territory of India.” The objective of this endeavour should be to address the discrimination against vulnerable groups and harmonise diverse cultural practices. The stand taken by B.R. Ambedkar in the Constituent Assembly debates has survived the years. Dr Ambedkar had said a UCC is desirable but for the moment should remain voluntary.
Religious freedom vs. Uniform Civil Code
The codification of personal laws has historically generated protests. The Hindu Code Bill, one of the foremost pieces of social legislation, triggered enormous opposition. The debate on the UCC is centred on the argument to replace individual personal customs and practices of marriage, divorce, adoption and successions with a common code. Those in favour of one code argue that it will end discrimination in religions.
Detractors contend that it will rob the nation of its religious diversity and violate the fundamental right to practise religion enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution. They hold that a state action to introduce the UCC is against the quintessence of democracy. The secular state is, after all, an enabler of rights rather than an inhibitor in sensitive matters of religion and personal laws.
Advantages of Implementing Uniform Civil Code
- To provide equal status to all citizens
In the modern era, a secular democratic republic should have common civil and personal laws for its citizens irrespective of their religion, class, caste, gender etc.
- To promote gender parity
It is commonly observed that personal laws of almost all religions are discriminatory towards women. Men are usually granted upper preferential status in matters of succession and inheritance. A Uniform civil code will bring both men and women to par.
- To accommodate the aspirations of the young population
Contemporary India is a new society with 55% of its population is below 25 years of age. Their social attitudes and aspirations are shaped by universal and global principles of equality, humanity, and modernity. Their view of shedding identity-based on any religion must be seriously considered to utilize their full potential towards nation-building.
- To support the national integration
All Indian citizens are already equal before the court of law as the criminal laws and other civil laws (except personal laws) are the same for all. With the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code, all citizens will share the same set of personal laws. There will be no scope of politicization of issues of the discrimination or concessions or special privileges enjoyed by a particular community based on their particular religious personal laws.
- To bypass the contentious issue of reform of existing personal laws
Existing personal laws are mainly based on the upper-class patriarchal notions of the society in all religions. The demand of UCC is normally made by aggrieved women as a substitute for existing personal laws as patriarchal orthodox people still deem the reforms in personal laws will destroy their sanctity and oppose it profusely.
Challenges in implementing a Uniform Civil Code
- Practical difficulties due to diversity in India
It is practically tough to develop a common and uniform set of rules for personal issues like marriage due to the tremendous cultural diversity in India across religions, sects, castes, states etc.
- Perception of UCC as an encroachment on religious freedom
Many communities, particularly minority communities perceive Uniform Civil Code as an encroachment on their rights to religious freedom. They fear that a common code will neglect their traditions and impose rules which will be mainly dictated and influenced by the majority of religious communities.
- Interference of state in personal matters
The constitution provides for the right to freedom of religion of one’s choice. With the codification of uniform rules and their compulsion, the scope of the freedom of religion will be reduced.
- Sensitive and tough task
Such a code, in its true spirit, must be brought about by borrowing freely from different personal laws, making gradual changes in each, issuing judicial pronouncements assuring gender equality, and adopting expansive interpretations on marriage, maintenance, adoption, and succession by acknowledging the benefits that one community secures from the others. This task will be a very demanding time and human resource-wise.
The government should be sensitive and unbiased at each step while dealing with the majority and minority communities. Otherwise, it might turn out to be more disastrous in a form of communal violence.
- Time is not yet suitable for this reform
Considering the major opposition from the Muslim community in India over this issue overlapping with controversies over beef, saffronization of school and college curriculum, love jihad, and the silence emanating from the top leadership on these controversies, there needs to be given sufficient time for instilling confidence in the community. Otherwise, these efforts towards commonality will be counterproductive leaving the minority class, particularly Muslims more insecure and vulnerable to getting attracted towards fundamentalist and extremist ideologies.
This post has been edited by Tanmay Doneria.