The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has been a topic of extensive debate in the country. The 22nd Law Commission of India, through a public notice on June 14, 2023, invited suggestions on the UCC from various stakeholders, including major religious institutions, referencing June 17, 2016. This has reignited the discussion on the matter. In Punjabi, it is also known as the Common Civil Code, Uniform Civil Code, or simply UCC. Essentially, the UCC seeks to establish a single legal framework for all citizens of the country, irrespective of their religion. Currently, matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, property acquisition, and adoption are governed by religion-based personal laws.
During discussions on the UCC, some anti-BJP parties and thinkers have misconstrued its original intent and associated it with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hindutva. The 21st Law Commission, led by former Supreme Court judge Balbir Singh Chauhan in 2020, commented that creating a UCC at this stage is neither necessary nor useful. However, it is important to note that no law commission has the authority to permanently close any case, as they are non-statutory bodies providing recommendations to the government.
Critics who claim that the UCC is an agenda of the Modi government should remember that Article 44 under Part IV of the Constitution already introduced the principle of a Uniform Civil Code about 70 years ago. The State is urged to ensure a uniform Civil Code for all citizens throughout India. This was discussed during the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, and BR Ambedkar, the Law Minister, recommended adopting a Uniform Civil Code. However, the idea faced strong criticism in Parliament, leading to the passing of the Hindu Code Bill as four separate Acts in 1956, with the Uniform Civil Code incorporated in Article 44 of the Directive Principles of the Constitution. Despite the BJP’s manifesto including the UCC for the 1998 and 2019 elections, attempts to propose it in Parliament in November 2019 and March 2020 were swiftly withdrawn. Nonetheless, the UCC continues to be under deep study.
The call for a Uniform Civil Code originated in the early 20th century from women activists aiming for women’s rights, equality, and secularism. During independence, Indian communities were governed by various civil laws based on religion. Currently, personal laws of different communities continue to be governed by their religious scriptures, covering areas such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, and maintenance. There exist disparities between the personal laws of Hindus and Muslims, with Muslim personal law based on Sharia law allowing unilateral divorce that discriminates against women. The case of Shah Bano in 1985 brought UCC to the forefront of Indian politics, as the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, recommending a uniform civil code to promote national unity and eliminate conflicting laws of different ideologies.
Sharia law was introduced in 1937 due to pressure from the Muslim elite, but its application varies across India, leading to discriminatory customary laws that disadvantage women. Similarly, certain Hindu customs also discriminate against women by denying them inheritance, remarriage, and divorce.
’’ਏਕ ਪਿਤਾ ਏਕਸ ਕੇ ਹਮ ਬਾਰਿਕ’’
’’ਏਕ ਨੂਰ ਤੇ ਸਭੁ ਜਗੁ ਉਪਜਿਆ ਕਉਨ ਭਲੇ ਕੋ ਮੰਦੇ’’
’’ਨਾ ਕੋ ਬੈਰੀ ਨਾਹੀ ਬਿਗਾਨਾ ਸਗਲ ਸੰਗਿ ਹਮ ਕਉ ਬਨਿ ਆਈ’’
The aims and teachings of commonality and human equality are being created by themselves. Guru Gobind Singh Ji Maharaj removed the fear of caste division by saying:
’’ਹਿੰਦੂ ਤੁਰਕ ਕੋਊ ਰਾਫਜੀ ਇਮਾਮ ਸਾਫੀ। ਮਾਨਸ ਕੀ ਜਾਤਿ ਸਭੈ ਇਕੈ ਪਹਿਚਾਨਬੋ।’’
Guru Arjan Dev ji called for human commonality and equality and said
’’ਸਭੇ ਸਾਝੀਵਾਲ ਸਦਾਇਨਿ।। ਤੂੰ ਕਿਸੈ ਨਾ ਦਿਸਹਿ ਬਾਹਰਾ ਜੀਉ’’
If we talk about the women class, where the followers of the first religions condemned the women class, Guru Nanak Dev ji did not raise his voice against the social fraternity and economic discriminations
’’ਸੋ ਕਿਉ ਮੰਦਾ ਆਖੀਐ ਜਿਤੁ ਜੰਮਹਿ ਰਾਜਾਨ’’
Glorifying the woman by saying, awakened respect towards her. Changing the social attitude towards widow women who did not commit sati, Guru Amardas ji also introduced the custom of remarriage of widows.
’’ਸਤੀਆ ਏਹਿ ਨ ਆਖੀਅਨਿ ਜੋ ਮੜਿਆ ਲਗਿ ਜਲੰਨਿ। ਨਾਨਕ ਸਤੀਆ ਜਾਣੀਅਨਿ ਜਿ ਬਿਰਹੇ ਚੋਟ ਮਰੰਨਿ ’’
Different communities have varied opinions on the UCC, and some political parties exploit religion to further their interests at the cost of national welfare and community well-being. In the context of support and opposition to the UCC, the Gurmat view should be considered. Sikh philosophy advocates human welfare, equality, and justice. Sikhism has historically championed the rights of women and oppressed groups, making it compatible with the spirit of a Uniform Civil Code. Opposition from certain Sikh organizations and political parties may be politically motivated and against the principles of Gurmatism.
India’s goal is to be a secular society with national unity and equal rights for all citizens. A Uniform Civil Code does not restrict religious practices but aims to treat everyone equally. It is essential for a progressive society, to promote national unity and eliminate discriminatory practices. Implementing the UCC aligns with the principles of Sikhism, which advocates equality and justice. Therefore, the Sikh community should lead India in supporting the UCC while preserving its unique identity and customs.
Uniform Civil Code is crucial for achieving a secular and equal society in India, ensuring the rights of all citizens, and promoting national unity. It is compatible with the principles of Sikhism and should be embraced for the betterment of the country.