The phantom of a UCC

Monday Musing

[ Junroi Mamai ]

On 27 June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a call for introduction of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in the country. His statement kicked off a nationwide debate on the divisive issue.

The PM’s statement came after the 22nd Law Commission of India sought fresh suggestions from various stakeholders, including public and religious organisations, on a UCC. Following the growing nationwide debate, the commission has also extended the deadline for the public to send their views on a UCC to 28 July.

Several minority communities in the country have been expressing reservations over the issue for many years. In recent times, the debates have only increased among several communities, while some governments of the Northeast region have come forward with their views and objections.

The NDA alliances in Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, the National People’s Party (NPP) and the Nagaland Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NNDPP) in Nagaland have all strongly opposed a UCC. In February this year, Mizoram unanimously adopted a resolution in its assembly to oppose the code, and the Mizoram home minister went on to state that “even if legislated by Parliament, a UCC would not be implemented in the state unless the state legislature by a resolution decides to do so.”

Recently, a 12-member delegation of Naga leaders that met union Home Minister Amit Shah claimed that the government has assured that the Law Commission is considering the idea of excluding the Christian community in the state and some tribals from the proposed UCC legislation.

The concept of a common set of laws governing personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption for all citizens, irrespective of their religious affiliations, under a UCC, is debatable and many do not agree with it.

In Arunachal, tribal organisations and student bodies like the Arunachal Indigenous Tribes Forum and the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union through a memorandum to the chief minister clearly stated that they do not support a UCC at all.

People in Arunachal have their reservations over a uniform civil code as they fear that their age-old traditions, customary rights and laws will cease to exist once the code is implemented in the state.

However, it is a fact that the Constitution of India under Article 371 (H) ensures special provisions for Arunachal Pradesh, and for the Centre to implement a UCC in a state like ours, it has to amend the ‘special provisions’ status by an Act of Parliament. Clearly, there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the proposed legislation.

Earlier this month, union Home Minister Amit Shah had assured the Naga leaders that the Law Commission would consider the idea of excluding the Christian community and some tribals in the state of Nagaland from the proposed UCC legislation. If the Centre is assuring such exclusions to particular communities, even when there is no clear proposal or a draft with the Centre till date, the Centre will evidently have to make more exclusions for other communities and groups of people as the debate on a UCC continues. If this is what the Ccentre plans to do, then what is the point of implementing a uniform civil code in a country as diverse as ours?

Rajya Sabha member and senior Supreme Court advocate Kapil Sibal while speaking about the proposed legislation put it correctly and succinctly: “Firstly, the prime minister should inform the country what is the proposal for a UCC and on what issues does he want uniformity. Until a proposal is put forward, there is no need for a debate on a UCC.”