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It's 1985. The Indian National Congress is in the centre, as anti-Sikh riots from the previous years still haunt the country. Shah Bano, a 73-year old woman is divorced by Muhammad Ahmad Khan, her husband of 40 years, by triple Talaq. Shah Bano appeals a local court for maintenance by Khan, and the court decides that she shall receive maintenance from Khan. This seems intuitive, right? A divorced woman seeking maintenance from her husband, and the court passing decision in her favour, so that she can support herself. It's not so easy though. Khan, himself a lawyer, knew that personal laws for a Muslim person, is governed by the Islamic law. He takes the matter to the Supreme Court, and demands a reversal of the decision as he has fulfilled all the obligations under Islamic law. What would the Supreme Court do now? Reverse the decision as per Khan’s appeal, or ensure that Shah Bano receives the support? Finally, the SC ruled in Shah Bano’s favour under the ‘maintenance of wives, children, and parents provision’ of Section 125, which is applicable to every citizen regardless of religion, caste or gender. What did it cost though?
The media picked this matter up and sensationalised it. The minorities felt threatened that their cultural identities, and personal laws were in danger. The All India Muslim Board accused the centre, and the judiciary of promoting Hindu dominance over other communities. Shah Bano refused to receive maintenance from Khan. Women’s rights boards demanded that women’s rights be supported regardless of personal laws to end discrimination. The Supreme Court recommended a Uniform Civil Code be set up to ensure that there are no discrepancies in legal decisions owing to different personal laws governing different religions, and communities. But what exactly is the Uniform Civil Code?
The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) has been proposed by various governments, and other boards to formulate and ideate uniform personal laws for Indian citizens regardless of their religion. But the code has been seen as a way to curb religious freedom, and cultural identities by various conservative religious groups. Further, the critics of UCC cite that it poses danger to the plurality, and diversity of the country. It has long been a subject of debate among different communities, and groups. The BJP mentioned that UCC will be applied if they come into power, in its manifesto for the 1998, and 2019 elections. The bill has been brought up for discussion multiple times since 2019, but has not been introduced due to resistance from a number of members of the parliament. In April 2021, a request was filed to transfer a plea seeking the establishment of a judicial commission to prepare a draft for the UCC, from the Delhi High Court to the Supreme Court.
The Law Commission of India stated that a UCC is neither desirable, nor necessary, back in 2018 through a 118-page consultation paper. Currently, it is difficult to predict if the UCC will be applied in the country in the next 5 years. It is also yet to be seen what factors would the UCC consider apart from adoption, inheritance, marriage, and uniform rights regardless of gender, and religion.
This article has been written by Rutik K. Jadhav for The Paradigm
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