Senior Advocate A. Sirajudeen speaks about the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) and the effect of its implementation on religious practices in an interview with Ananya Singh.

Mr. Sirajudeen enrolled as an Advocate in the year 1987 and was designated as a Senior Advocate in 2016. He practices primarily at the Supreme Court of India. He is not only a litigator specialising in various fields of law including Corporate and Taxation but is also an author having written 7 books on law dealing with aspects like the Rights of Prisoners, Independence of Judiciary and Criminal Investigation, among others.

In this interview, he highlights why the move for UCC is considered anti-muslim and how the system has no relation with the practice of religion.

1. Law Commission of India has taken up the subject of Uniform Civil Code and has invited opinion from stakeholders. What is your view on this approach of the government on UCC?

There are different personal laws for the citizens and on some aspects, they prescribe different rules. For example, joint family system is not recognised for Muslims. Whereas, it is recognised for Hindus. On the death of a Hindu, his father is not entitled to any share if there are other class 1 legal heirs. But, Islamic law grants 1/6 share to the father straight away. The contribution of male members for the improvement of the family property and taking care of the parents are more than the female members. Hence, Islamic law grants twice the share to the male members. But, Hindu law grants equal share to all. Hence, all systems of laws are to be studied deeply and a better common secular law has to be provided to the citizens by ignoring the religious aspect. It is a delicate task especially when Indian society is deeply divided on religious lines and political parties are using 'religion card' for their benefit. It necessitated the Government to seek the help of the Law Commission and the Law Commission to invite views and suggestions from the stakeholders to arrive at a better formula to govern the civil rights of the citizens.

2. Will a Uniform Civil Code violate fundamental rights guaranteed under Articles 25 & 26 of the Constitution?

No. Civil code governs only the civil rights of the parties. Marriage, divorce, transfer of properties, adoption, succession, gift for religious purposes and Wills are purely civil in nature. Religion provides some guidance for these matters. Religion is not saying that these rules should not get modified in tune with the changes in the society. Enacting a common law to govern these human conducts are nothing to do with the practice of religion. Hence, the question of violation of fundamental rights under Article 25 or 26 does not arise.

3. What do you have to say about criticism of the UCC even though no one knows what it will look like? Is criticism premature?

All are politics. The common man, irrespective of his religion, is not concerned with laws originating from religious texts. Those who use religion for their political purpose are making a hue and cry. In fact, both Islamic law and ancient Hindu law have already been largely modified. Take, for example, Indian Penal Code, Child Marriage Restraint Act and Transfer of Property Act, all directly interfere with the personal laws. We should wait for the final recommendation of the law commission. It is not going to happen overnight.

4. India is a land of diverse cultures and customs, do you think it is possible to achieve uniformity, as is intended by the UCC?

It is a difficult task. Law Commission has to provide flexibility to enable the people to practise their culture. Peace in the society is the ultimate aim of any country for its development. Hence, we cannot expect any new law by completely throwing away the existing laws.

5. Why do you think UCC is always seen as a move against Muslims, even though every community, including Hindus, could be affected by it?

Impression has been created by political parties for a long time as if Muslims enjoy undue benefit by being governed by Islamic law. For a long time, political parties have been either in favour of or against the continuance of Islamic law. Hence, the move for UCC is seen as anti-Muslim.

6. Which areas of Muslim Personal law do you think will be affected by UCC and what is your opinion about alternative options for such laws?

UCC should not touch the Muslim Succession laws as it is based upon ground realities. Male takes a lead role in earning and maintaining parents. Hence, they deserve a larger share in the properties left. Hence, there is no need for interference in this matter at present. The process of getting a divorce has to be made more easy for all. When the couples could not be together, law should not compel them to continue their marital status for an unduly long period. On all other aspects, common law may be attempted.

7. How do you think UCC will help in addressing the issues of gender inequality?

There cannot be absolute equality in any sphere. Law should take care of realities in the society and make rules without unduly harassing anyone. In my view, granting equal rights in coparcenary properties to the woman has destroyed the age-old institution of joint family. Gender equality is needed but it cannot be implemented in a blindfolded manner, in all spheres.