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THE CONTEXT: Recently, Uttarakhand state Assembly proposed the draft bill Uniform Civil Code (UCC), exploring its implications for India’s diverse social fabric and privacy, particularly about live-in relationships, and examines legislative attempts to balance gender justice with cultural diversity. The discourse reflects historical instances where legal homogenization resulted in negative outcomes, underscoring the need for a nuanced approach to the UCC.
- Lack of a Working Draft: Initially, no working draft was available for discussion, leading to uncertainties about the government’s proposal. Without a working draft, discussions on the matter are somewhat speculative.
- Concerns Over Uniformity vs. Diversity: UCC might undermine India’s cultural and religious diversity by imposing a homogenized set of laws reminiscent of the British era’s policies that fueled partition. UCC could aim to homogenize the legal system at the expense of cultural nuances, citing the historical example of the Shariat Act of 1937 and its contribution to homogenizing Muslim personal laws, which arguably fueled separatist narratives.
- Provisions of the UCC Draft: The draft seems to largely incorporate provisions from the Special Marriage Act, 1954, and the Indian Succession Act, 1956, with some strategic tweaks, such as making religious conversion a ground for divorce.
- Live-In Relationship Regulations: The draft UCC includes controversial provisions for live-in relationships, such as mandatory registration and the possibility of criminal charges for non-compliance. This raises concerns about privacy and the potential for abuse.
- Definition of ‘Resident’: The UCC’s definition of a resident is broad and could apply the code to individuals who have never lived in Uttarakhand or are temporarily employed there, which could lead to legal complexities. This could include people working for the state or central government within or outside the state, even if they don’t live there.
- Criminalizing Unregistered Live-in Relationships: Making it an offense to be in an unregistered live-in relationship for more than a month appears excessive and punitive, especially in a society where such arrangements might be sought as a step before formal marriage. The requirement that the registrar notify the parents and the police station for partners under 21 years of age could infringe on the autonomy and privacy of young adults.
- Lack of Clarity in Registration Refusal and Appeal: The draft does not explain the consequences of a refusal to register a live-in relationship, nor does it provide a clear appeals process for such a decision. The system, as proposed, could be open to misuse, resulting in harassment and privacy breaches, particularly for inter-faith and inter-caste couples who face social resistance.
- Conflicting Age Provisions within the UCC: The draft seems to have conflicting provisions regarding the marriageable age and the age at which the state must be notified about live-in relationships.
THE WAY FORWARD:
- Political Consensus and Opposition from Religious Groups: Building political consensus and engaging in constructive dialogue with religious groups to address their concerns can help the smooth implementation of the UCC.
- Inclusion of Tribal Communities: The exemption of tribal communities from the UCC in Uttarakhand has sparked debate. Finding a balanced approach that respects the unique practices of tribal communities while working towards a more uniform legal framework for all citizens is essential.
- Gender Justice and Equality: One of the primary objectives of the UCC is to ensure gender justice and equality. Any provisions or amendments should be carefully crafted to uphold these principles.
- Maintenance of Women and Legitimacy of Children: Positive provisions related to maintenance rights for women and the legitimacy of children from live-in relationships should be retained while ensuring that they are implemented practically and non-intrusively.
- Inclusive Approach: The implementation of UCC should be an inclusive process, considering the concerns and perspectives of all stakeholders, including religious and cultural communities, legal experts, and civil society organizations.
- Privacy and Personal Freedoms: Addressing privacy and personal freedoms concerns, especially in live-in relationships, requires carefully reviewing the provisions to ensure they are not overly intrusive or punitive.
- Clarifying Applicability: The term ‘resident’ should be clearly defined to prevent the overextension of the UCC’s jurisdiction and ensure it applies appropriately to those it is intended to govern.
- Reconciliation of Age Provisions: All age-related provisions within the UCC should be consistent with each other and existing national laws to avoid legal confusion and conflict.
- Training and Sensitization: Impart training to registration officers, police, and other relevant authorities to handle sensitive matters related to the UCC, respecting individuals’ dignity and rights.
The draft UCC, while aiming for equality and legal simplicity, overreaches in privacy and personal autonomy, demanding meticulous revision for practical enforcement without infringing on individual rights. It is vital to promote gender justice and legal uniformity while fostering and respecting the inherent diversity that defines the ethos of India.
UPSC PAST YEAR QUESTION:
Q.1) Discuss the possible factors that inhibit India from enacting a uniform civil code for its citizens as provided in the Directive Principles of State Policy. (2015)
Q.2) Given the diversities among tribal communities in India, in which specific contexts should they be considered as a single category?(2022)
Q.3) Communalism arises either due to power struggle or relative deprivation. Argue by giving suitable illustrations.(2018)
MAINS PRACTICE QUESTION:
Q.1) India’s quest for enacting a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has been a subject of debate since the country’s independence. Analyze the potential implications of implementing a UCC on the diverse fabric of Indian society, especially in light of the proposed draft by the State of Uttarakhand.
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