On Friday, a contentious private member’s bill was submitted in the Rajya Sabha to establish a commission to develop a Uniform Civil Code. In the midst of opposition party protests, “The Uniform Civil Code in India Bill, 2020” was introduced in the Upper House.
December 9, 2022, the Upper House
During a private member’s discussion, BJP MP Kirodi Lal Meena moved for permission to bring the Bill to establish the national inspection and investigation commission for the establishment and execution of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) throughout India and for matters related thereto. The Bill envisions a set of laws that will safeguard the personal rights of all individuals regardless of their religious beliefs.
But opposition members from the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK), Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Samajwadi Party (SP), Communist Party of India (CPI), CPI (Marxist), Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and Congress demonstrated against the introduction of the Bill, claiming that if passed, it will “destroy” our social fabric and our characteristic “unity in diversity” – the plurality of a secular nation.
Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar called for division as the members of the opposition demanded that the Bill be retracted. By a vote of 63 to 23, the motion to introduce the bill was approved. Jawhar Sircar of the Trinamool Congress, who is outnumbered, accused the BJP of causing long-term harm to the country while having a brief majority.
[Note: A private members bill is one that a legislator introduces on their own, not on the Executive’s behalf. Only on Fridays are such bills eligible for introduction and discussion. There is a cap of three private bills every parliamentary session.]
Personal laws are laws that exclusively apply to a specific group of individuals according to their religion, caste, creed, or beliefs. In other words, not everyone is subject to personal laws. Hindus have different personal laws than Muslims, for instance.
Some laws derive their authority from religious scriptures that date back to the ancient or mediaeval periods. Because of their ancient origins, critics of these laws argue that they are not beneficial to today’s society.
Hindus follow personal laws in matters of inheritance, succession, marriage, adoption, co-parenting, sons’ debt-paying responsibilities, property division, maintenance of divorced women, guardianship of minors, and charity donations.
Muslims follow personal laws derived from the Quran in matters of inheritance, wills, succession, legacies, marriage, charitable endowments known as wakf, dowry, guardianship, divorce, gifts, and pre-emption.
For Christians, adoption, divorce, custody of minors, marriage, and succession are all governed by personal laws. Even Zoroastrians, who practise the ancient Persian religion, have their own personal laws in India, but Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists do not; Hindu personal laws apply to the latter three of these groups.
Uniform Civil Code
A civil code is a collection of laws that deal with very private issues like inheritance and who has the final say in a family. An area with a civil code typically also has a code of civil process. Such codification has a long history that begins in ancient Babylon.
Written between 2100 and 2050 BC, the Code of Ur-Nammu is the oldest civic code still in existence. The basis for western civil law systems is the Corpus Juris Civilis, a codification of Roman law created between 529 and 534 AD by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I.
Through the colonisation of African, Asian, and American territories by European powers since the fifteenth century, western civil law systems have been introduced to nearly all regions of the world.
Other writings employed in religious law, such as the Law of Manu in Hindu law, Islamic Sharia law, the Mishnah in Jewish Halakha law, the Canons of the Apostles in Christian Canon law, etc., are among the other codified laws that have been in use since antiquity.