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Uniform Civil Code Stirs a Hornet’s Nest in India, Sparks Debate Among Muslims

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on February 9, 2024, 10:32:20

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India, ucc, uniform civil code, uttrakhand

Uttarakhand, a small northern Indian state, has ignited a heated debate with its recent adoption of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), particularly among the Muslim community, regarding its implications on personal laws. The new law aims to standardise marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption regulations, replacing the previous system where these matters varied based on religious affiliations. This move has raised questions about religious autonomy and minority rights, with critics expressing concerns about potential infringement on personal freedoms.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami introduced the draft bill for a Uniform Civil Code to replace personal laws with common laws for all religious groups. The move has stirred controversy, particularly among Muslim communities, raising concerns about religious autonomy and minority rights. Uttarakhand passed a law on Wednesday that will replace religion and community-specific laws with a uniform code, sparking concerns that the Narendra Modi-led ruling nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is engaging in majoritarianism.

India, known for its diversity with a population of 1.4 billion people encompassing various religious and ethnic communities, has allowed these communities to follow their respective scriptures and traditions for matters such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption. Several countries in the world have implemented Uniform Civil Codes to standardise laws governing personal matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance, irrespective of religious affiliation. Countries like France, Germany, and Turkey have adopted such codes, emphasizing secularism and equality before the law.

Parliamentary Procedures

Passing a Uniform Civil Code in India involves parliamentary procedures and constitutional amendments. The Indian Parliament, comprising the Lok Sabha (House of the People) and the Rajya Sabha (Council of States), is responsible for enacting legislation, including laws related to civil matters. For a Uniform Civil Code to be implemented nationwide, it would require significant debate, consensus-building, and ultimately, a constitutional amendment. This process involves introducing a bill in either house of Parliament, followed by discussion, possible amendments, and voting. The bill must be passed by a majority vote in both houses of Parliament, and if there are any disagreements between the two houses, a joint session may be convened to resolve them.

Pushkar Singh Dhami, the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, who represents the BJP, tabled the draft bill for the UCC for the state, hailing it as a historic step towards equality and justice. Once approved by the state governor, Uttarakhand will become the first Indian state to have a uniform law regulating marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption, applicable to all religious groups, including Muslims, the largest minority group. “I want to thank the people of Uttarakhand and Prime Minister Modi because, with their guidance, we were able to pass a bill that will work towards providing justice to everyone and lead everyone towards equality,” Dhami stated after the law’s passage.

Mounting Criticism

However, the legislation has faced criticism from various quarters, including rival political parties, religious groups, and legal experts, who argue that it infringes upon personal freedoms and imposes a Hindu majority. Sanjay Hegde, a senior advocate at the Supreme Court, expressed concerns about the government’s interference in religious beliefs and its attempt to enforce majority laws on minority communities.

Critics argue that the proposed legislation, while aiming to standardise civil practices, could exacerbate tensions among religious communities and erode the autonomy of minority groups. The Muslim community, in particular, has voiced strong opposition to the law, viewing it as an assault on their religious practices and beliefs.

“The Muslim community has been completely ignored,” said Mufti Raees Kashmi, state president of the Uttarakhand Imam Organisation, highlighting concerns about the legislation’s disregard for minority rights. As the debate surrounding Uttarakhand’s Uniform Civil Code continues, the legislation’s implications for religious freedom, minority rights, and India’s secular fabric remain subjects of intense scrutiny and debate.

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