Uniform Civil Code A Step Towards Gender Equality
India is a very diverse country. Citizens following different religions live in India. Different
religions lead to diverse customs and different personal laws. In India, every religion has a
different set of laws regarding marriage, divorce, succession, maintenance, and adoption.
Article 44 of the Indian Constitution reads: “The state shall endeavor to secure for the
citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” 1 Supreme Court of India also
suggested the need for Uniform Civil Code many times. Some part of the population is
demanding Uniform Civil Code since independence still, there is no Uniform law which deals
with personal laws.
Uniform civil code means uniform, equal and progressive laws for all citizens in the
country. There is a continuous demand for the Uniform Civil Code throughout the country is
due to unequal personal laws in different religions. Personal Laws are patriarchal and
discriminating against women. Feminist scholars criticize the fact that personal laws are
rarely amended to bring social change and mostly remain “fossilized in the name of religious
inviolability.” 2 There is a need for progressive laws which will bring gender equality. There
were many attempts made to achieve gender equality through changes in old customs and
laws. Abolishment of Sati 1829, Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act 1856, Hindu Code Bill
1956, The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Act 2019 are some efforts that
made before and after the independence of India.
Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar were prominent campaigners to bring
equality to women in Hindu society. Sati prohibition act and Hindu widow’s remarriage act
are results of efforts from religious reformers like Raja Rammohan Roy and Ishwar Chandra
Vidyasagar. Post-independence there were some laws like bigamy in Hindu personal Laws
which were against equality. To change these laws the then government led by Jawaharlal
Nehru introduced the Hindu code bill which consists of the Hindu Marriage Act 1956, Hindu
Succession Act 1956, Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act 1956, Hindu Adoption and
Maintenance Act1956. In 2005 Hindu Succession Act was amended which gives an absolute right to Hindu daughters in ancestral property. After all these acts we can say there is equality amongst men and women in some sense as per Hindu personal laws are concerned. However, A Hindu woman cannot adopt a child on her own neither she can be a guardian for a child who is above 5 years of age. 3 Shariat laws are the main source for Muslim personal laws. Some customs in Muslim personal laws are regressive and unequal. A Muslim husband is entitled to maintain his wife for 3 months of iddat period and give mehr amount after divorce. 4 There is no provision for maintenance of wife after divorce. However, a Muslim wife can claim maintenance under
1 Constitution of India
2 TanjaHerklotz, ‘Dead Letters? The Uniform Civil Code through The Eyes of the Indian Women’s movement and the Indian Supreme Court’ 2016 https://edoc.hu-berlin.de/bitstream/handle/18452/9168/61.pdf?sequence=1
3 TanjaHerklotz, ‘Dead Letters? The Uniform Civil Code through The Eyes of the Indian Women’s movement and the Indian Supreme Court’ 2016 https://edoc.hu-berlin.de/bitstream/handle/18452/9168/61.pdf?sequence=1
4 ParulChaudhary, ‘Gender inequality in Hindu and Muslim Personal Laws in India 2015, International Journal of Home Science https://www.homesciencejournal.com/archives/2015/vol1issue1/PartA/15-754.pdf
CrPC Section 125. There should be an addition of a maintenance clause in Muslim personal
laws to bring equality in the rights of men and women. Another regressive custom in Muslim
Personal law is NikahHalala. According to this custom, a divorced woman cannot remarry
her husband until she marries another person and has sexual intercourse with him and
thereafter he divorces her. This custom is a clear violation of the right to live with dignity. 5
A Muslim man may marry no. of wives not exceeding four wives. This custom refuses the
right to equality which is given to every citizen in the Indian Constitution. According to
Muslim succession law, male heirs get double property than a female heir. Muslim
succession act is unequal to women. After the shayaraBano case in 2017, the regressive
custom of triple talaq is declared unconstitutional by the Supreme court of India and the
Indian Parliament passed legislation that declares triple talaq as illegal and void. This was
one step towards equality. However, many reforms are needed in Muslim personal laws to
bring equality in Muslim society in India.
The Indian succession act 1925 gives no right to a Christian mother in the property of her
deceased son. This property can be given to the father, if he is not alive it can be distributed
amongst siblings. Till the introduction of The Indian Divorce (amendment) act 2001, a
Christian husband can give divorce to his wife only on the ground of adultery but for a
Christian wife to give divorce adultery and any other additional ground was required.
Indian women since independence are fighting for equal rights and progressive laws with the
help of NGOs and feminist activists. Triple talaq judgment, Hindu succession (amendment)
act, 2005, Daniel Latifi VS UOI, The Indian Divorce(Amendment) Act 2001 are some
milestones in the journey of equal rights for women. However, this movement needs more
such reforms to bring equality. Government should introduce new bills to bring equality.
Civil society, lawyers, activists, NGOs should demand equal rights in personal laws of all
religions. Discourse to bring Uniform Civil Code should not be communal and politicized.
Implementation of these laws on the ground is much more important. If we succeed to bring
uniform and equal personal laws for all religions in our country then the future will be bright
for women in this country.
About the author-
Research Intern, Stambh Organisation India
5 ParulChaudhary, ‘Gender inequality in Hindu and Muslim Personal Laws in India 2015, International Journal
of Home Science https://www.homesciencejournal.com/archives/2015/vol1issue1/PartA/15-754.pdf