Distinguished guests confabulated on the uniform Civil Code and how the government should approach it at the weekly India Legal show
The issue of Uniform Civil Code has once again reared its head with the Supreme Court agreeing to examine the issue in detail and ascertaining whether the courts could interfere, and if so to what extent. The Modi government has also taken the initiative and asked the Law Commission to find out whether it was possible to implement the Uniform Civil Code and get back to it with a detailed report.
The India Legal Show, a weekly program on APN News, recently discussed threadbare the legal aspects of the Uniform Civil Code. The distinguished panel included Inderjit Badhwar, senior journalist, commentator and editor-in-chief of India Legal magazine; RB Misra, former acting chief justice, Himachal Pradesh High Court; Vikas Singh, senior advocate, Supreme Court; Shaista Ambar, president, All India Muslim Women Personal Law Board; Rakesh Dwivedi, senior advocate, Supreme Court; Zakiya Soman (joining the discussion over phone), founder, Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan; PH Parekh, senior advocate, Supreme Court; and Anand Grover, senior advocate, Supreme Court.
For Inderjit Badhwar, the issue of uniform civil code is not restricted to India alone. “The matter has been taken up everywhere across the globe. And, this time, the issue came up here with the increasing triple-talaq cases,” he said and added: “The matter is in front of the Supreme Court and the constitution bench has recommended the case to a larger bench. The bench has also asked the Law Commission to study three things, that is: Article 44 of the Directive Principles in India; laws inconsistent with or in derogation of the fundamental rights (Article 13); and Article 372, continuance in force of existing laws and their adaptation, which is again contradictory to Article 14 (equality before law), Article 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth) and the soul of the constitution, Article 21, which guarantees fundamental rights.”
Answering the question whether the common civil code will empower the fundamental rights, which is guaranteed to the citizens, Justice RB Misra said: “Uniform Civil Code is important for the unity, integrity and sovereignty of the country. As of now, there are various marriage acts such as the Muslim Personal Law (based on Sharia Law), the Christian Marriage Act, the Persian Marriage and Divorce Law and the Hindu Marriage Act.”
Agreeing with the idea to bring a uniform civil code, Vikas Singh said: “It must come. The rule was introduced as part of the Directive Principles of State Policy, which was part of the original constitution, and enacted in 1950. But, government is unable to bring it yet.” However, he cautioned: “It should not become a law directly”. Singh insisted that the government should bring all the minority communities together for a wider debate. “All well-educated, progressive-minded people will agree for a common code. But you cannot impose it,” he pointed out.
Shaista Ambar had a different take on the issue. She said: “I am not in favor of a Uniform Civil Code. Our constitution is far better without it and already provides social justice and social rights to us. We have the freedom to work on the basis of our religion. We can act according to our religious rules.”
Delving into history, Rakesh Dwivedi said: “Uniform Civil Code is a complicated subject. That is why the framers of the constitution placed it in the Directive Principles of State Policy. So, it was not in force. It was expected that the state would work to implement it eventually.” On whether the law should come or not, he said: “Everything in the community should be made uniform. There are number of areas where everybody is dealt uniformly. But, in many areas there is a stark difference.”
Sharing her understanding of the common civil code, Zakiya Soman said: “We need to know how the common civil code came. After Independence, Nehru and Ambedkar were concerned that the constitution had guaranteed equal rights to men and women but the social malpractices, customs and superstitions did not. And, to address these concerns, the civil code was introduced. But, the elected representatives in the Constituent Assembly protested against the code. They said it is against Indian culture, heritage and history. So the idea was dropped and was included in the Directive Principles of State Policy.”
She added: “The Quranic rights for women are not mentioned in the Muslim Women Personal Law. The Quran has been mis-interpreted, distorted. The Muslim women law should be transformed on the basis of Quranic rights.”
PH Parekh said that the uniform civil code should not be thrust upon the minorities. “The common code is included in the non-enforceable part of the constitution so that the minorities do not feel discriminated. A long time has been passed but, it is important that the peace is maintained. To bring the civil code, it is necessary to involve everyone as it should benefit everyone.”
Anand Grover agreed that the overall situation has improved than what it was at the time of the Shah Bano case. “Muslim women are demanding a ban on triple-talaq. People can practice any religion, can propagate and profess any religion but, the country or state has nothing to do with it. When you talk about secularism in law, there should be no injustice.”
Hoping that no conflict should emerge after the Uniform Civil Code is implemented, Justice Misra said: “The common code is important for sovereignty, integrity and unity of our nation.” Vikas Singh commented: “The code was included in the Directive Principles so that one cannot enforce it to make it a law and the law if enacted should be done on consensus.” Badhwar responded: “You cannot bring uniformity in religion, but you can bring uniformity in persecution.”
—Compiled by Srishti Sonewal