As an Indian I wholeheartedly support the idea of a Common Civil Code. It is a fair and equitable directive of the Constitution of India – “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.” Yet, more than sixty-five years later, it remains an idealistic goal. In a country where religion is inextricable from sociocultural practices, amidst the frantic wailing of communalists on either sides, eminent public intellectuals such as Romila Thapar have argued strongly for a Uniform Civil Code time and again.
Personal laws, often draw from regressive and patriarchal traditions and threaten a vital constitutional right – the right to equality before law, particularly for women. That apart, the system of personal law, also does not offer an exit option for non-believers. A religious identity is forced upon you, whether you like it or not and it stands in the way of the enjoyment of freedom from religion. Religious freedom and pluralism are suppositioned as virtues of that personal law system, I dafromre say, on the contrary they are casualties. For instance, when people get married, divorced, inherit property, bequeath property etc, they often are mandated to do so in accordance with their personal law as determined by the state. But members of a religious group are likely to have a wide range of mutually incompatible views about what their religion warrants. The personal law system cannot possibly accommodate all these diverse viewpoints and hence it has to choose one or a couple of religious interpretations to apply by law. The result is that those whose interpretations vary from that of the state must follow religious forms and practices they might deeply disagree with. Consequently, the heterodox believer then is forced to act according to religious beliefs not his own !!!.
Let us, however, understand this matter in its entirety, away from the hysterical rants of politicians and pontiffs on either side of the debate. Unlike in the West where secularism means laicité, Indian secularism is all about getting different communities to romance. Therefore, positing towards a secular public policy while feigning to protect religious morals is an impossible act, given India’s cultural diaspora and contradicting illusions of morality. Can Indian politicians rise above vote-bank politics and formulate UCC to govern all people irrespective of their religion/caste/gender, in par with most modern civilized nations ?. That to me appears the greater challenge. We, the people of India, have accepted secularism as a constitutional value but have not asked ourselves what it means to be secular as a society ?. “One people One law” means to place constitutional morality above religious morality, and for a progressive nation like India, one must have UCC, leaving no room for individual religious laws.