UCC: Uniformity vs Diversity

Dr Asangba Tzudir

The concept of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India has been a topic of intense debate and discussion in India. The idea of 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. The origin of the UCC dates back to colonial India when the British government submitted its report in 1835 stressing the need for uniformity in the codification of Indian law relating to crimes, evidence, and contracts, specifically recommending that personal laws of Hindus and Muslims be kept outside such codification.

The Constitution of India, under Article 44 states that the state shall undertake 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, in consideration of the sensitivity and complexity of the issue in a context of different civil codes in India. And so, over the years, various governments have discussed and debated the implementation of a UCC but it has remained a contentious and politically sensitive topic.

Though a topic of intense debate over the decades, it is become more pronounced and polarized in the context of the emerging trends in Indian politics. Considering the religious and cultural diversity, many critics have pointed out 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. Infringement and invasion into the very cultural fabric and the religious freedom of its citizens are serious concerns highlighted. For instance, Article 25 guarantees the autonomy of every religious organization. They are entitled to maintain their unique culture under Article 29. While political considerations are notably seen as part of the larger ‘Indianizing’ agenda, just to cite some instances, it is difficult to envisage protection of minority rights, gender and women’s rights under the UCC. While India as a nation is still struggling to bring about National Integration, UCC will only bring further disintegration. 

With the Constitution of India in place, UCC simply is a contradiction to the larger spirit of the principles enshrined in the Indian constitution. Simply put, the existing Indian Constitution has no place for a UCC in a diverse country like India. If UCC is to be implemented, then the Indian Constitution needs to be rewritten. The Modi-led government in 2016 requested the Law Commission of India to determine how to form a code in the presence of “thousands of personal laws” in the country. In 2018, the Law Commission stated that a unified nation did not necessarily need “uniformity”, and also added about the contradiction it brings to the plurality prevalent in the country, and concluded that a uniform civil code was neither necessary nor desirable. Such conclusion not only attests the contradiction but also the fact that the project of a “one nation, one law” cannot be applied to a country like India.

As for Nagaland, with religious and cultural concerns coming within the purview of Article 371A of the Indian Constitution, unequivocal opposition to UCC has really gained momentum because at stake is the larger Naga rights and identity. 

(Dr Asangba Tzudir writes a weekly guest editorial for The Morung Express. Comments can be mailed to asangtz@gmail.com)