We often hear about the demand for implementation of a common civil code in the society. Yet, you will be surprised to know that India has one of the best ‘uniform civil codes’ in the world, be it the Contract Act, Transfer of Property Act, Evidence Act and the Civil Procedure code.
The clamor of civil code is nothing but the codification of personal laws like marriage, divorce, inheritance, adoption, etc.Both groups, the ones who advocate and the ones who oppose the demand, have some valid points which they raise.
Those who advocate it believe that the absence of a uniform civil code is a threat to national integration. But, this can also be seen as just another yardstick to beat the minorities, especially the Muslims. This group opposes many other laws that are far more important for national integration and equality.
Those in opposition to a uniform civil code relate the personal laws to the religious customs and are against any of these laws being tampered with. The other point that they raise is that when 99 per cent of laws do not protect the interests of citizens, then what is the guarantee that ‘uniform civil code’ would be successful?
I personally feel that we need to change some personal laws and, if possible, have a ‘uniform civil code’. It is time for a healthy debate about reforming the personal laws, and all the concerned parties should have a wider approach. The Supreme Court and former President APJ Abdul Kalam both have advocated the uniform civil code. The main pillar of any democratic country is equality. Without equality, there can be no justice and without justice, there can be no equality. Everything changes with time and so does the concept of justice.
Laws evolved and deemed sacred in primitive times need to be modified or changed if these do not support the doctrine of equality. John Rawls once said, “Laws and Institutions on matter, however, efficient and well-arranged, must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.” No doubt that the Article 25 of the Constitution allows freedom of religion but if personal laws are against the essence of equality (Article 14), then we need to adopt a slight broader view. If a few personal laws are tested against the doctrine of equality, one will find them unjust, arbitrary and unconstitutional.
The Muslim community does not seem ready for any changes in personal laws. They have theological arguments for the same. But does the rationality of such arguments deserve serious attention in this age? All the laws are man-made and are reflections of level of thinking and human knowledge at the time.
Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia have enacted several measures to reform their societies. I do not see any reason why we should not follow their example There are differences in various Hindu laws as well. For instance, in Kerala, under the Marumkathyam law, a Hindu can marry his niece while the same marriage is void for a Mitakshara Hindu.
If we have common civil code or rather ‘personal laws’, then we can rectify some points in existing laws. A uniform law will also address the issue of divorce, desertion, adultery, cruelty, etc with the same yardstick for both the husband and the wife. We can have similar laws for inheritance, maintenance and custody of children, guardianship or adoption, which will definitely strengthen the egalitarian scenario.
But then, there are obscurants who fear an equal society for selfish needs. The political propaganda is yet another way to create divisions in the society. If we really want to promote equality in this society, we need to change our mindset and be ready to accept some decisions. And a step would be to allow a Uniform Civil Code.