Petitioners have said India urgently needs UCC to promote national integration.


New Delhi: The issue of Universal Civil Code (UCC) is gaining momentum with many Muslim activists joining the chorus for it, even as the Ministry of Home Affairs has sought more time to file a its reply on a petition moved in Delhi High Court.

A PIL has already been filed by BJP leader and lawyer Ashwini Kumar Upadhyay in this regard in the Delhi High Court, which is hearing the matter. The court has allowed the oral prayer of the Central government standing counsel Anil Soni and listed the matter for hearing on 2 March, asking the Centre to file its reply to the petition. This is the fifth time that the Ministry of Home Affairs has sought time to file a counter.

However, besides Upadhyay, three Muslim activists—Firoz Bakht Ahmed, Nighat Abbass and Amber Zaidi—have also filed petitions in the Delhi High Court on the matter. All the petitioners, in their respective pleas, have contended that India “urgently needs a Uniform Civil Code” to promote national integration as well as gender justice, equality and dignity of women.

Additionally, at least three other Muslim activists have either approached or are planning to approach the Supreme Court against the practices of polygamy and nikah halala in the Muslim community.

A national level Muslim organisation—Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) — has demanded codification of Muslim laws. The organisation is also planning to move the Supreme Court against the practices of nikah halala and polygamy.

Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Zakia Soman, co-founder of BMMA, said: “We are moving the apex court against the polygamy and nikah halala. We will give our inputs as and when the government comes out with UCC. Our concern is about gender justice. Muslim Family Law is not codified and should be addressed. There should be redressal of injustice to Muslim women.” It is to be noted that Soman had also moved a petition on the triple talaq issue.

Besides Soman, two other Muslim activists—Nais Hasan and Noorjehan Safia Niaz—are also planning to move the Supreme Court on the issue.

Lucknow-based social activist and writer Nais Hasan said she has already moved the Supreme Court against the practices of polygamy, nikah halala, Mutha, Misiyar and Shariat laws in the Muslim community. “Right now, we are fighting on these issues. In the next step, we will take up the issue of a gender-just law, which could be called Indian Civil Code,” she told The Sunday Guardian from Lucknow. She also said that if the government comes out with a draft on the UCC, she would give her inputs on it.

She said there are minimum five issues on which there can be uniformity across the country. These are: uniform minimum age of marriage, uniform ground of divorce, uniform maintenance and alimony, uniform adoption and guardianship, and uniform succession and inheritance. According to her, these are issues related to human rights, civil rights and gender equality and have nothing to do with religion.

In the PIL in the Delhi High Court, the petitioner Upadhyay wants the government to come out with a UCC which seeks to promote national integration, gender justice, equality and dignity of women. Senior advocate Vikas Singh, appearing for Upadhyay, said the government has to make its stand clear, whether it has recommended for drafting a UCC to the Law Commission or not. Besides Upadhyay’s petition, there are four other similar pleas seeking UCC.

The first plea seeking a UCC was moved by Upadhyay in May this year and the High Court had on 31 May issued a notice to the Centre, seeking its response within four weeks. Subsequently, a similar second plea was moved by lawyer Abhinav Beri in August for direction to the Centre to constitute a judicial commission or a high-level expert committee to draft a UCC.

Upadhyay, in his petition, has said that the issue of UCC is there in BJP’s manifesto since the time of the Jan Sangh in 1952. He has contended that the Centre has “failed” to put in place a UCC as provided under Article 44 of the Constitution.

Speaking to this newspaper, Upadhyay said: “The government should first come out with a draft of the UCC so that there could be a discussion on it. There cannot be a discussion in vacuum. The draft should have the UCC in the spirit of Article 44 of the Constitution within three months, while considering the best practices of all religions and sects, civil laws of developed countries and international conventions.” He also said that Goa has a common civil code since 1965, which is applicable to all of its residents, and it is the only state to have it as of now.

It is to be noted that the BJP, in its manifesto before the 2019 Lok Sabha election, had mentioned the UCC, saying that Article 44 of the Constitution lists it as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy.

A third petition was filed by Firoz Bakht Ahmed, the chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University and grandnephew of first education minister Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, in October. The fourth PIL was moved by Amber Zaidi, who is a social activist and media personality. The fifth petition was filed by Nighat Abbass, who is also a social activist, media panelist and political analyst. The court has not yet issued notice on the four PILs filed after Upadhyay’s. The petitioners have contended that gender justice and gender equality, guaranteed under Articles 14-15 of the Constitution and dignity of women, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, cannot be secured without implementing the Article 44 (the State shall endeavour to secure for citizens a UCC throughout the territory of India). The petitions have claimed that a UCC would replace the personal laws, based on the scriptures and customs of various religious communities, with a common set of rules governing every citizen of the country.

In December 2015, the Supreme Court bench headed by then Chief Justice of India T.S. Thakur had declined to hear Upadhyay’s petition in which he had sought to bring the civil code which brings all religious personal laws under one umbrella. He had then withdrawn the petition.

In his petition, Upadhyay has said: “Keeping in view the constitutional obligation of the Union government to implement Article 44 of the Constitution, recent judgment of the Supreme Court on the matter of triple talaq and urgent need and benefits of a Common Civil Code for all the citizens of India, I humbly request you to constitute a High Level Expert Committee or a Judicial Commission or direct the Law Commission to draft a Uniform Civil Code for all citizens, considering the best practices of all the religions and sects, Civil laws of the developed countries, international conventions in consonance with the Article 44 read with Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution and publish it on the website for at least 30 days for comprehensive public debate and feedback before introducing it in Parliament.”