BJP led NDA Government has asked the Law Commission to examine the issues relating to the implementation of Uniform Civil Code. This is the first time a Government has asked the commission which has a advisory role on such a politically controversial legal reform.
Our Constitution under the Directive Principle of State Policy Article 44 states:
“The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.”
Text quoted below is what Baba Saheb Ambedkar had to say when the issue of adding proviso / amending the above article which was then Article 35 was being discussed by the Constituent Assembly on the 23rd November 1948:
“In dealing with this matter, I do not propose to touch on the merits of the question as to whether this country should have a Civil Code or it should not. That is a matter which I think has been dealt with sufficiently for the occasion by my friend, Mr. Munshi, as well as by Shri Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar. When the amendments to certain fundamental rights are moved, it would be possible for me to make a full statement on this subject, and I therefore do not propose to deal with it here.
My friend, Mr. Hussain Imam, in rising to support the amendments, asked whether it was possible and desirable to have a uniform Code of laws for a country so vast as this. Now I must confess that I was very much surprised at that statement, for the simple reason that we have in this country a uniform code of laws covering almost every aspect of human relationship. We have a uniform and complete Criminal Code operating throughout the country, which is contained in the Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code. We have the Law of Transfer of Property, which deals with property relations and which is operative throughout the country. Then there are the Negotiable Instruments Acts: and I can cite innumerable enactments which would prove that this country has practically a Civil Code, uniform in its content and applicable to the whole of the country. The only province the Civil Law has not been able to invade so far is Marriage and Succession. It is this little corner which we have not been able to invade so far and it is the intention of those who desire to have article 35 as part of the Constitution to bring about that change. Therefore, the argument whether we should attempt such a thing seems to me somewhat misplaced for the simple reason that we have, as a matter of fact, covered the whole lot of the field which is covered by a Uniform Civil Code in this country. It is therefore too late now to ask the question whether we could do it. As I say, we have already done it.
Coming to the amendments, there are only two observations which I would like to make. My first observation would be to state that members who put forth these amendments say that the Muslim personal law, so far as this country was concerned, was immutable and uniform through the whole of India. Now I wish to challenge that statement. I think most of my friends who have spoken on this amendment have quite forgotten that up to 1935 the North-West Frontier Province was not subject to the Shariat Law. It followed the Hindu Law in the matter of succession and in other matters, so much so that it was in 1939 that the Central Legislature had to come into the field and to abrogate the application of the Hindu Law to the Muslims of the North-West Frontier Province and to apply the Shariat Law to them. That is not all.
My honourable friends have forgotten, that, apart from the North-West Frontier Province, up till 1937 in the rest of India, in various parts, such as the United Provinces, the Central Provinces and Bombay, the Muslims to a large extent were governed by the Hindu Law in the matter of succession. In order to bring them on the plane of uniformity with regard to the other Muslims who observed the Shariat Law, the Legislature had to intervene in 1937 and to pass an enactment applying the Shariat Law to the rest of India.
I am also informed by my friend, Shri Karunakara Menon, that in North Malabar the Marumakkathayam Law applied to all-not only to Hindus but also to Muslims. It is to be remembered that the Marumakkathayam Law is a Matriarchal form of law and not a Patriarchal form of law.
The Mussulmans, therefore, in North Malabar were up to now following the Marumakkathyam law. It is therefore no use making a categorical statement that the Muslim law has been an immutable law which they have been following from ancient times. That law as such was not applicable in certain parts and it has been made applicable ten years ago. Therefore if it was found necessary that for the purpose of evolving single civil code applicable to all citizens irrespective of their religion, certain portions of the Hindus, law, not because they were contained in Hindu law but because they were found to be the most suitable, were incorporated into the new civil code projected by article 35, I am quite certain that it would not be open to any Muslim to say that the framers of the Civil code had done great violence to the sentiments of the Muslim community.
My second observation is to give them an assurance. I quite realise their feelings in the matter, but I think they have read rather too much into article 35, which merely proposes that the State shall endeavour to secure a civil code for the citizens of the country. It does not say that after the Code is framed the State shall enforce it upon all citizens merely because they are citizens. It is perfectly possible that the future parliament may make a provision by way of making a beginning that the Code shall apply only to those who make a declaration that they are prepared to be bound by it, so that in the initial stage the application of the Code may be purely voluntary. Parliament may feel the ground by some such method. This is not a novel method. It was adopted in the Shariat Act of 1937 when it was applied to territories other than the North-West Frontier Province. The law said that here is a Shariat law which should be applied to Mussulmans who wanted that he should be bound by the Shariat Act should go to an officer of the state, make a declaration that he is willing to be bound by it, and after he has made that declaration the law will bind him and his successors. It would be perfectly possible for parliament to introduce a provision of that sort; so that the fear which my friends have expressed here will be altogether nullified. I therefore submit that there is no substance in these amendments and I oppose them.”
Constituent Assembly member Mr. Naziruddin Ahmad had this to say about Uniform Civil Code: “The goal should be towards a uniform civil code but it should be gradual and with the consent of the people concerned.”
Another member Mr.Hussain Imam said : “I feel that it is all right and a very desirable thing to have a uniform law, but at a very distant date. For that, we should first await the coming of that event when the whole of India has got educated, when mass illiteracy has been removed, when people have advanced, when their economic conditions are better, when each man is able to stand on his own legs and fight his own battles. Then, you can have uniform laws. Can you have, today, uniform laws as far as a child and a young man are concerned?”
The question that Mr. Hussain asked then more than 67 years ago is still relevant today and need to answered before the current political dispensation embarks on a journey to cater to their ideology !!