I would like to present some views on the significant, burning topic concerning the implementation of a uniform civil code (UCC) in Arunachal Pradesh.
A UCC means that all sections of society, irrespective of religion, shall be treated equally according to a national civil code applicable to all uniformly. A UCC encompasses areas such as marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance, adoption, and succession of property.
It is based on the premise that there is no connection between religion and law in modern civilisation. The Indian Constitution incorporated Article 44 in the Directive Principles of State Policy, stating that the state shall endeavour to provide its citizens with a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.
It is important to be cognisant that the reigning Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre is endeavouring to implement a UCC in its entirety to bring uniformity. The implementation of a UCC is one of the points included in the party’s manifesto.
However, a UCC is not implemented in the entire part of India, and similar verdicts have been passed by the high courts and the Supreme Court. In the Shah Bano case (1985), the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Shah Bano under the “maintenance of wives, children, and parents” provision (Section 125) of the All India Criminal Code, which applies to all citizens, irrespective of religion.
Furthermore, it recommended the establishment of a UCC.
Switching to the context of Arunachal Pradesh, it’s important to note that Arunachal is a tribal state with special provisions granted by the Indian Constitution. Article 371 H prevails in Arunachal, giving the governor special powers and responsibilities with regard to law and order in the state.
The legislative assembly has taken significant steps to bring the state under the 6th Schedule, and to amend Article 371 H to safeguard the tribes of the state. Considering the prevailing situation and circumstances in Arunachal, it can be construed that implementation and applicability of a UCC has no room for accommodation. Many women-oriented organisations have expressed concern over gender equality in the context of property rights, but their proposals have been turned down by the patriarchal structured society in Arunachal.
For instance, a draft Arunachal Pradesh Marriage and Inheritance of Property Bill, 2021, had been proposed by the Arunachal Pradesh Women’s Welfare Society (APWWS) and the Arunachal Pradesh State Commission for Protection of Child Rights to push for socioeconomic security and equal rights for women. However, the proposed bill failed to become law in the state legislative assembly due to opposition from male-dominated civil society organisations. Critics have termed the proposed bill an affront to the tribal way of life.
The recent development of a private member’s bill proposed by Congress MLA Ninong Ering, called the Arunachal Pradesh Monogamy Election Eligibility Bill, 2023, sought to amend the existing electoral laws in the state to allow candidates with only one spouse to contest elections and hold public office. The bill also aimed to promote monogamy, strengthen family values, and ensure transparency and accountability in the political sphere.
In support of the bill, the APWWS appealed to the chief minister for kind support and intervention. However, the bill ultimately had to be withdrawn due to significant pressure on Congress MLA Ninong Ering, as it would have caused embarrassment for many sitting legislators and aspiring candidates.
One significant reason why a UCC cannot be implemented in Arunachal is the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, 1873. According to this Act, for inward travel into Arunachal, under the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order, 1958, an official document issued by the government, known as the inner line permit (ILP), is required. The ILP system is still in practice in Arunachal. It was introduced to preserve the indigenous character of all the tribes living in the restricted areas of the northeastern part of the country; prevent the influx of migrants; and protect and preserve the rich heritage of the northeastern tribes.
When the central government conducted a poll on the implementation of a UCC throughout India, Arunachal-based organisations and student unions, such as the APWWS, the All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union, and the Arunachal Pradesh Indigenous Tribal Forum, strongly objected and outrightly turned down its applicability. They requested an exemption for Arunachal from the purview of a UCC.
Arunachal is a state with 26 major tribes and 100 sub-tribes, each with its own judiciary institution where justice is delivered. Gaon buras play a pivotal role in settling disputes, and many cases, both civil and criminal, are dealt with according to the existing law books and traditional practices.
Considering the prevailing circumstances, it can be deduced that a UCC may not be applicable in Arunachal as there is no space for accommodation. The UCC could potentially be applicable only if the aforementioned Acts and regulations are lifted.
Assistant Professor, HU