Turmoil has been raging in the past two months over a circular released by a pre-university college in Karnataka. Udipi’s Kundapur PU college issued a circular last December, banning hijabs in its classrooms. The institution stated that its intent was purely to ensure uniformity and not based on any ulterior motive.
As the new year rolls in, a ferocious row has erupted over the decision, dividing public opinion across the country. Supporters and opponents of the order have met in violent confrontations, prompting the state government to impose Section 144 in select districts. Educational institutes were also closed temporarily by the government to prevent any untoward incidents.
The issue has now begun to take on a political colour, with the usual suspects coming out in support of either party. An interesting offshoot of the hijab controversy is the Uniform Civil Code (UCC). Citing the ongoing dispute in Karnataka, many individuals have started making a case for the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code Pan-India.
What is the Uniform Civil Code?
The Uniform Civil Code is a code in the Indian Constitution which calls for the formulation of one law, applicable to all communities in matters of religion, marriage, inheritance and adoption. The UCC comes under Article 44 of the Constitution, which states that the state shall endeavour to implement a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens in the country.
Currently, matters like marriage, inheritance, adoption, etc., come under personal laws of the different communities that call India home. This means that Hindus, Muslims, Parsis and Christians, for that matter, conform to their own separate laws with respect to such matters. The origin of such an arrangement dates back to colonial India when the British government recommended that the personal laws of the different religious groups be exempted from codification.
For or against
Proponents of the Uniform Civil Code have based their argument on the complexities that arise out of the different personal laws that govern the masses. Even the Delhi High Court noted that separate laws created grounds for “issues arising due to conflicts in various personal laws”.
Anticipating such issues, India’s founding fathers inserted a provision in the Constitution that would, to a certain degree, ensure the gradual implementation of a single law. Article 44 of the Directive principle of State Policy, Part IV of the Constitution of India, states that the “State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”.
That being said, to prevent any misuse or misinterpretation of the provision, the architects of India’s Constitution included Article 44 in the aforementioned section under Part IV of the Constitution in purpose. This means that while not enforceable by any court, the State shall apply such principles in making laws. However, the Parliament has the sole power to make a law to bring in the UCC.
One law, one nation
India is a culturally vibrant nation that was created from a union of states. The diverse and multi-ethnic composition of its people is its identity. The Constitution recognizes this and has accordingly provided for the safeguard of the personal freedoms of all Indians.
While the idea of ‘one law, one nation’ is desirable, it would mean an infringement of the various freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. Law Commissions have sat on this subject matter in the past, and each time the answer was a no.
The latest Law Commission in a 2018 report stated that a Uniform Civil Code in the present scenario would only serve to complicate things. It observed that a Uniform Civil Code “is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage” for India.
While the UCC looks highly unlikely at this juncture, it would be interesting to see if it becomes a unifying factor after implementation.