Delhi High Court on Friday expressed its obligation to implement a Uniform Civil Code across the country as it observed that the "Indian society is gradually becoming homogenous while the traditional barriers are slowly disappearing." It was raised by Delhi High Court when there was a hearing on a petition today related to the applicability of the Hindu Marriage Act to a couple seeking divorce belonging to the Meena community in Rajasthan.
What is Uniform Civil Code (UCC)?
The current set of personal laws governing marriage, divorce, succession, and adoption are framed based upon the religious beliefs prevalent in the population. Some examples are the Hindu Marriage Act (1955), the Indian Christian Marriage Act (1872), The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act (1986). A Uniform Civil Code will pave the way to create a common set of laws managing marriage, divorce, succession, and adoption by overcoming the patriarchal notions in the personal laws and thus ensuring greater freedom, equality, and justice to women in particular irrespective of the religious faiths. This aims to replace many personal laws which exist with a single set of laws.
"In modern Indian society which is gradually becoming homogenous, the traditional barriers of religion, community and caste are slowly dissipating. The youth of India belonging to various communities, tribes, castes or religions who solemnise their marriages ought not to be forced to struggle with issues arising due to conflicts in various personal laws, especially in relation to marriage and divorce."
— Justice Pratibha M Singh, Delhi High Court
The appeal petition, which raised the obligation from Delhi HC to insist the Centre on Uniform Civil Code, was related to the applicability of the Hindu Marriage Act to a couple belonging to the Meena community living in Rajasthan. The husband has filed a petition under Section 13(1) of the Act. Still, a family court in Rajasthan quashed his petition because the law does not apply to the Meena community, which is a recognized Scheduled Tribes (ST) community in Rajasthan.
"Not to remain a mere hope."
During the hearing, Justice Pratibha M Singh mentioned that: “The youth of India belonging to various communities, tribes, castes or religions who solemnize their marriages ought not to be forced to struggle with issues arising due to conflicts in various personal laws, especially in relation to marriage and divorce,” which clearly speaks of the desire of Delhi HC to bat the Centre headed by Narendra Modi to accomplish this task. Article 44 of the Constitution of India mentions that "the State shall endeavor to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India." Also, Justice Pratibha added that the need for a Uniform Civil Code as envisioned by Article 44 had been reiterated from time to time by the Supreme Court. She added that Hindu Marriage Act applies to everyone practicing the religion, whether they are "Virashaiva, Lingayat or a follower of the Brahmo."
However, women’s groups and secular organizations have firmly opposed a Uniform Civil Code from BJP, promised in its manifesto to implement it across the nation. “It is sad because we are opposed to many of the provisions in the Muslim Personal Law. But we cannot have a uniform civil code coming from a Hindutva government,” said Hasina Khan, founder of Bebaak Collective, a feminist non-governmental organization.
History of conflicts arisen in personal laws so far: Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985)
."Courts have been repeatedly confronted with the conflicts that arise in personal laws. Persons belonging to various communities, castes, and religions, who forge marital bonds, struggle with such conflicts. In Mohd. Ahmed Khan v. Shah Bano Begum (1985), the strong need for an unambiguous set of laws governing divorce was felt. The case involves the divorce petition filed by Shah Bano Begum in April 1978 demanding monthly maintenance from her divorced husband. Shah Bano went to court and filed a claim for maintenance for herself and her five children under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. The divorce was completely intact following the Islamic religious tenet of irrevocable talaq.
But the Khan's counter-argument against this claim from Begum was supported by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. It contended that courts could not interfere in those matters that are laid out under Muslim Personal Law, adding it would violate The Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act, 1937.
“Section 125 was enacted in order to provide a quick and summary remedy to a class of persons who are unable to maintain themselves. What difference would it then make as to what is the religion professed by the neglected wife, child or parent? Neglect by a person of sufficient means to maintain these and the inability of these persons to maintain themselves are the objective criteria which determine the applicability of section 125. Such provisions, which are essentially of a prophylactic nature, cut across the barriers of religion. The liability imposed by section 125 to maintain close relatives who are indigent is founded upon the individual’s obligation to the society to prevent vagrancy and destitution. That is the moral edict of the law and morality cannot be clubbed with religion.”
— Chief Justice of India YV Chandrachud, 1985
Then Chief Justice of India YV Chandrachud upheld the decision of the High Court that gave orders for maintenance to Shah Bano under CrPC. The case was considered a milestone as it was a step ahead of deciding cases based on interpretation of personal law and dwelt on the need to implement the Uniform Civil Code.
It also noted different personal laws and the need to recognize and address gender equality and perseverance in matters of religious principles.