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Uttarakhand Assembly Adopts Uniform Civil Code

Uttarakhand Assembly Adopts Uniform Civil Code

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Feb 7: Uttarakhand became the first state in the country to adopt the Uniform Civil Code after the Bill was passed in the Assembly on Wednesday serving as template for other BJP-run States to enact similar legislation.

The Bill, which was passed by voice vote, was introduced in the BJP-majority Assembly a day earlier and the Opposition had suggested that it should be sent to a select committee of the House first. Once the Bill gets the governor’s consent, Uttarakhand will become the first State after independence to get a common law on marriage, divorce, land, property and inheritance for all citizens, irrespective of their religion.

UCC refers to a common set of laws that are applicable to all Indian citizens, and is not based on religion in dealing with marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption, among other personal matters. “Today is an important day for Uttarakhand. We have passed a bill that people across the country have been demanding for a long time, and Uttarakhand is the first to pass it. I want to thank all the MLAs, and the people of Uttarakhand who gave us a chance to come to power and eventually pass the bill,” Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami told reporters outside the assembly.

Speaking on the Bill before its passage, Mr Dhami said it was not an ordinary legislation. The UCC would create equal laws for men and women across all faiths and will help create a non-partisan and non-discriminatory society, he said. It will especially protect the rights of women and put an end to their exploitation, Mr Dhami said. “It fulfils a commitment we had made to the people of the state in the run-up to the 2022 assembly polls,” the chief minister said.

The Chief Minister said the bill was not against anyone, but for the benefit of everyone, especially women. “This bill was not passed against anyone. It will give the right to equality to everyone without any discrimination on matters like marriage, maintenance, inheritance, and divorce… It will mainly remove discrimination against women,” the Chief Minister said.

In Uttarakhand, it was a pre-poll promise that Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had made. While exempting the tribal community from its purview, the Bill proposes a common law on marriage, divorce, inheritance of property and live-in relationships for all citizens, irrespective of their religion. Coming just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, it ticks off an important item on the BJP’s agenda. The Bill imposes stringent terms on a consensual relationship between adults and raises constitutional concerns of privacy and personal liberty.

Essentially, the Bill seeks to equate heterosexual live-in relationships to the status of a marriage. A separate chapter in the proposed Code deals with live-in relationships, defining them as a “relationship between a man and a woman” (partners) who “cohabit in a shared household through a relationship in the nature of marriage, provided that such relations are not prohibited.”

Mr Dhami said the UCC can be amended in future if the need to add a specific clause arises. The bill excludes population control measures and the Scheduled Tribes, constituting 3 per cent of Uttarakhand’s population.

BR Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar, who heads the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, said parliament cannot “impose” the UCC on citizens as the Constitution gives a person religious freedom. He said Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution give a person the freedom to adopt a religious life as long as it doesn’t conflict with any fundamental rights. Besides, the government cannot “impose” UCC unless it changes the Constitution completely, he said.

All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) disapproved of the UCC. Maulana Khalid Rasheed Farangi Mahali, Executive Member of AIMPLB, voiced his concern and questioned the nature of the ‘uniform code’ if any community was exempted. “As far as UCC is concerned, we are of the opinion that uniformity cannot be brought in every law and if you exempt any community from this UCC, how can it be called a uniform code?” the AIMPLB member said. “There was no need for any such Uniform Civil Code,” he added.

 

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