The Uttarakhand Assembly recently passed the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) 2024 Bill, making it the second state in the country to implement the Uniform Civil Code. Goa has already had this law in place from the beginning. The UCC aims to establish a uniform set of civil laws that apply to all residents of Uttarakhand, irrespective of their religious or cultural affiliations. At the national level, the demand for implementing the Uniform Civil Code continues to persist. The ruling BJP at the centre has consistently emphasized its importance in its election manifestos for years.

After gaining independence, India faced many challenges. To overcome those challenges and pave the way for progress, the Indian government did not implement the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) at that time. In my opinion, and I believe many experts would agree, if the UCC had been applied right after independence when the new government came into power and everything was being decided, perhaps today we wouldn't still be debating this issue after so many years.

When you were fighting alongside the British government during their rule, it's a different matter. But after forming your own government and achieving independence, we rejected the demand for the UCC, choosing to keep it aside and focus on moving the country forward. That was a different decision altogether.

Is it still right that in our country, due to following different religious practices and having different people living here, we are the largest democratic country, yet we have not implemented a uniform code? When you have established a legal system that treats everyone equally, regardless of their colour, appearance, or religion, then why do we still need to debate bringing uniformity and equality in society?

If we commit theft, if we commit robbery, if we shed blood, we go to court, and everyone receives equal punishment, irrespective of their race, appearance, or religion. So why do we still need to discuss a civil code or uniformity to bring equality in society?

Unfortunately, even 75 years ago, we were governed by patriarchal interpretations that persisted despite the demands for change. In 1939, a Sharia Act was established, but it failed to bring about gender justice because of the significant influence wielded by the clergy. Additionally, factors such as the partition and other constraints hindered the government's efforts to address the issue. The clergy's unique perspective and traditions imposed restrictions, considering Islamic jurisprudence (known as Fiqh) as divinely ordained. However, it is important to recognize that human intellect has played a role in the development of Islamic jurisprudence over the past 1400 years. Different schools, such as Hanafi and Maliki, have offered diverse solutions, and countries have implemented them in varying ways.

Over time, significant changes have occurred in relation to Sharia law, particularly in major Muslim countries, with respect to gender equality. Although civil law acts have been enacted, the interpretations based on the Quran regarding gender justice have been unacceptable. In a secular country like India, it is essential to discard outdated and stagnant notions regarding gender relations. Muslim countries and Islamic states have undergone extensive legal reforms over the years, and as a secular country, India should not hesitate to do the same. Religious teachings emphasize the importance of gender justice, so there should be no conflict with religion in pursuing such reforms.

Why was religion originally created? What does religion entail? Religion was established to guide society towards a virtuous and ethical path. Even today, many individuals hold a deep reverence for religion. The purpose of religion is to ensure that there is no oppression within our communities. Whether it is Hinduism, Sikhism, or Islam, religions were created to provide a fundamental framework for society, delineating what is right and wrong and highlighting potential consequences for one's actions.

As social beings, we are bound to adhere to societal norms and guidelines, not just within our immediate communities but also throughout our entire country. Therefore, while practicing religion is a personal matter, it is essential to consider oneself as an integral member of society. To coexist harmoniously within a country, we must follow the established ways of living, which encompass both civil and criminal laws.

Babasaheb Ambedkar emphasized that equality is a fundamental right of every citizen, which should be extended to all individuals without discrimination or oppression based on religious beliefs.

Discrimination or oppression based on religious beliefs is an issue that needs to be addressed. Religion aims to reform and improve lives, promote gender justice, and ensure equality. Therefore, if people cannot agree with these principles, it is important to consider the Uniform Civil Code, which is committed to the fundamental principle of equal rights for all communities. Previously, our country lacked a uniform family law within the existing legal framework, resulting in disparities in the treatment of women in areas such as divorces, marriages, and adoptions. By implementing the Uniform Civil Code, we can establish a level playing field, ensuring that every person has the right to live with equality and dignity, both in our country and around the world. Religion itself teaches us to respect the dignity of every human being, makingit imperative to create a legal framework that upholds these principles.

It is worth noting that the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code requires careful consideration and consultation with all stakeholders, including religious and community leaders, legal experts, and the general public. It should be a collaborative effort that respects the diverse cultural and religious traditions present in India while ensuring that fundamental rights and principles of equality are upheld.

Furthermore, it is crucial to approach the issue of the Uniform Civil Code with sensitivity and respect for individual beliefs. Clear and transparent discussions should take place to address concerns and misconceptions, fostering an environment of understanding and dialogue.

In summary, the implementation of a Uniform Civil Code in India has been a longstanding topic of debate. While it aims to promote equality and ensure a level playing field for all citizens, it is essential to approach this issue with sensitivity, respect, and inclusivity. By engaging in open discussions and considering the diverse perspectives and beliefs of all stakeholders, India can work towards a legal framework that upholds fundamental rights while respecting the country's rich cultural and religious diversity.

Author is an Advocate practicing in the High Court of Bombay.

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