Is Uniform Civil Code (UCC) a threat to Northeast?

Shiken N Manpahu
1st Semester, Department of Mass Communication Nagaland University, Lumami

The origins of UCC date back to the 19th century, when the country's leader emphasized the necessity for uniformity in the condification of Indian law with regard to crimes, evidence, and contract but particularly advised against codifying the personal laws of Hindus and Muslims. The concept of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India has been a subject of intense debate and discussion for several decades in India. The idea behind a UCC is to have a common set of laws governing personal matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption for all citizens, irrespective of their religious affiliations. India, being a diverse country with multiple religions and religious laws, currently has different personal laws for different religious communities.

The Constitution of India, under Article 44, one of the Directive Principles of State Policy, states that the state shall endeavor to secure a Uniform Civil Code for its citizens. However, the framers of the Constitution left it to the discretion of the government to implement a UCC, recognizing the sensitivity and complexity of the issue. Over the years, various governments have discussed and debated the implementation of a UCC, but it has remained a contentious and politically sensitive topic.

The debate surrounding the Uniform Civil Code in India is multifaceted and often polarized. Here are some of the key arguments presented by proponents and opponents of a UCC:

Religious and Cultural Diversity: India is a country known for its rich religious and cultural diversity. It is home to multiple religions, each with its own set of customs, traditions, and personal laws. Critics say that the UCC poses a challenge to this diversity as it seeks to replace individual religious laws with a uniform code applicable to all citizens. 

Protection of Minority Rights: One of the main concerns raised by opponents of the UCC is the potential impact on minority communities. Personal laws are deeply intertwined with the religious identity and practices of these communities. They argue that imposing a common civil code may dilute the unique rights and protections enjoyed by minority groups and erode their cultural autonomy.

Political considerations: The sensitive nature of religious identity and the potential impact on minority communities have made it a polarizing topic, with political calculations often taking precedence over a genuine discussion on the merits and drawbacks of a UCC.

Gender Equality and Women's Rights: Proponents of the UCC argue that implementing a uniform code would promote gender equality and women's rights by eliminating discriminatory practices present in some religious personal laws. 

National Integration: Many feel a common civil code would foster national integration by promoting a sense of unity among diverse religious communities and strengthening the secular fabric of the country. While others say that the issue of a UCC is highly complex and sensitive, given the diversity of religious beliefs and customs in India.

In Nagaland, more than 86% of the populations is from the Schedule Tribes and there has been pushback against a UCC from Tribal bodies across the state. The Nagaland legislative Assembly where BJP is a partner in the government led by the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) unanimously passed a resolution that the State be exempted from the purview of the proposed Uniform Civil Code (UCC). 

The resolution was moved by CM Neiphiu Rio, which was the second day of the Assembly session along with 12 BJP MLA’s of whom five are Cabinet Ministers. The resolutions stated that the apparent objective of a UCC “is to have a single low on personal matters such as marriage and divorce, custody and guardianship, adoption and maintenance, succession and inheritance”, which would pose a threat to Naga customary laws and social and religious practices” that will be in danger of encroachment in the event of imposition of UCC.”

Accordingly, a consultative meeting with various stakeholders was organised on September 1 with representatives of tribal hohos and organisations where the latter expressed their strong resentment and objection to the UCC. 

Earlier, initiating the discussion on UCC, NPF Legislative Party leader Kuzholuzo Nienu cautioned that while rights and equality of citizens and national integration on the other were important, any attempt to force it on the diverse communities across the country would be futile and counterproductive.

Azo said UCC was a direct threat to the fabric of a communitarian tribal ethos and values and imposing it on the Nagas was to dismiss “our culture as primitive, uncivilised, inhuman, besides questioning our ability to find a solution from within to address human problems including rights and equality and to contribute to nation building at large”.

Joining the discussion, LJP (RV) legislator Dr A Sukhato Sema observed that since UCC was still in the initial stage of implementation, it would be easier to prevent the same from being implemented in Nagaland.

Power and Parliamentary Affairs minister KG Kenye asserted that the laws and regulations framed by the British, including the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation of 1873, taking into consideration the unique cultural and social practices of Nagas had protected the people for over 150 years.He maintained that laws meant for the mainland should not affect the tribals and smaller communities in the country. 

BJP legislator and adviser I&PR, S& WC Imkong L Imchen admitted that there were some “grey areas” in the UCC where Nagas might face inconvenience once it was introduced.

NPF legislator Achumbemo Kikon, suggested that the House find out the best possible option for the people on sensitive issues like the UCC that needed thorough analysis and put across ideas.

He cautioned that past experiences such as Municipal Act of 2001 which was passed without thorough discussion in the Assembly had to be repealed earlier this year.

Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma stated that his National People's Party (NPP) viewed the UCC as going against the idea of India itself. Stating that Meghalaya is a matrilineal society, the chief Minister added “That is what our strength has been and that is what our culture has been. Now that cannot be changed.”

The United Democratic Party (UPP) General Secretary Jemino Mawthoh further said that since there is no clarity on the matter, the party is “disinclined to support the proposed implementation of the Uniform Civil Code. 

In addition to that, recalling the BJP led government's attempt in 2022 to impose Hindi as the national language, Christian majority Nagaland's Rising People's Party opposed the move to implement the UCC because of the overarching ideology of homogeneity behind it. The party also said that UCC was in keeping with the push for “one nation, one language” by the Rashtriya Swanyasevak Singh. 

With the statement explained above, it can be seen that majority of the Northeastern States are against the implementation of the UCC as they fears it will interrupt the personal laws of the region. It can be said that basic human rights is very important, dignity of individual is important. Likewise, instead of implementing UCC, one can remove some of the problems in the existing personal laws, all those practices which are derogatory, discriminatory which are against social justice and can be removed according to present days and age. 

The demand to implement the UCC has come up many times, notably in 1985, during the hearing of the Shah Bano Case. India is a diverse Country with the various religious communities following their own personal laws. Therefore, implementing such code is difficult. UCC is also important for national integrity and equality of genders and religion, it can reinforce the principles of secularism in India. However, it could infringe upon religious practices. Nagaland as an ethnic tribe having their own Cultural and customary laws, to implement such code will result in exploitation of Article 371 A which clearly states that no act of parliament shall apply to the states of Nagaland in respect of the religious and social practices of the Nagas. At present various communities across the country follow their own personal laws which are governed by their religious scriptures. The BJP was long in pursuit of the implementing UCC across the nation. However, till date it remains a matter of debate.