Is Uniform Civil Code the path to gender justice?

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), I want to put up some disclaimers. This article does not mean to offend or demean any religion. The aim of this article is to raise awareness.

UCC refers to a single law applicable to all citizens of India. This law is only for the matter of divorce, marriage, custody abortion and inheritance. It aims to replace the fragmented system of personal laws that currently govern interpersonal relationships. Some believe, UCC, is the way towards a gender just society. They Claim that personal laws are biased in nature and a full uniform civil law will right that wrong.

In this article, we shall analyse how is gender justice and UCC connected. The main question is thus, is UCC a gender-just law or another law made by men for women?

Are the personal laws oppressive on women?

There is no denying that personal laws are oppressive towards women. Despite amendments, laws have long battles of cases in almost all religions. This discussion however came to light after the Triple Talaq judgement. Women activists soon started questioning all the discriminatory practices associated with personal laws. The debate started with questioning Islamic law. It probed the cruel practices of polygamy, unilateral divorce and depriving women of maintenance under Islamic law. However, this is not the only prejudiced personal law in India.
Under Hindu law, Section 6 Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act, the father is the primary natural guardian. This preference denies women the position of natural guardian altogether. Not only does it reflect the notions of patriarchy but also violates the fundamentals enshrined in the constitution itself.

Similarly, in Christian law, gender bias exists in divorce laws. Men can obtain a divorce based on adultery. However, women cannot have a divorce just on the grounds of adultery. IIt needs to be occupied with the act of bestiality, sodomy or desertion.

In some personal Parsi laws, gender bias exists in multiple provisions. A Parsi woman marrying a non-Parsi man loses Property Rights and Rights to practice her religion. The same does not apply to a Parsi man marrying a non-Parsi woman.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. These insistences do not cover the whole spectrum of discrimination that the personal laws pose. Let’s remember that personal laws are a reflection of beliefs and faith in one’s community. They are varied in nature.

Is UCC the solution?

UCC is in the constitution as a directive principle under Article 44 of the constitution of India. It aims to provide protection to vulnerable sections of society and also promote nationalistic fervour. The main argument towards the introduction of UCC has always been gender equality. It claims that UCC will create equal laws for both men and women in terms of personal rights.

This argument is problematic on two folds. First, there is no concrete conception of what the UCC should contain. Additionally, the Constituent Assembly did not have a clear conception of it. Even the much-touted Goa UCC or Portuguese civil procedure code is not equally applicable to all. It has different rules for Catholics and different rules for other communities.

The second fold is that there is no certainty that UCC will not be discriminatory. Ultimately men holding majority in both houses will pass this law. Even the debate’s inspiration, Goa’s UCC is also not gender-just. For instance, it allows Hindu Men to have bigamous marriage under different conditions. This includes when the woman can’t produce a son.

Even if we accept that UCC will bring gender equality, there is always a situation of defilers of law. This includes practices such as child marriage and dowry that are still prevalent behind closed doors. Even when reported, these crimes go unheard. So, the problem also lies with our society and the implementation of the law.

What Can Be Done? 

While personal laws are based on religious texts, they are also formatted to reflect the constitution. Some personal laws have a closer relationship with religion, they generally emerge out of sociopolitical considerations. So, it’s not just the laws that are at fault, it is also the mindset that we all carry. This becomes a weapon for the political parties to push their vote-back.

Feminist organizations such as All India Democratic Women’s Association that previously supported UCC redacted that support. They have proposed some improved solutions. First, amend existing laws such that it respects the religious freedom of a person. For instance, the age for marriage for men and women is 21 and 18 respectively. Instead there should be an uniform age of marriage for both men and women. The current norm contributes to the patriarchal notion that the bride should be younger. Further make illegal polygamy in Islam and other religions. It defied the rights of women on both sides. Second, women should be given the choice to follow UCC or her chosen personal laws. Thirdly, a woman’s choices in her marriage should not affect the inheritance and religious rights she possesses.

UCC is a dream that India has been seeing since the beginning. However, it is just that, a dream that has no grounding in reality. The argument that UCC will bring gender equality will not stand till the preview of the draft. Moreover, it would be myopic to expect that the whole nation would accept the law as it is. Till we resolve such issues, India cannot be ready for UCC.

About The Author

Aditi Bhardwaj is a Law student interested in feminist studies. She enjoys blogging.

Image Credit:Tingey Injury Law Firm