My blueprint for the Uniform Civil Code
This draft UCC is the first-ever attempt to bring specific issues before the public for a wider discussion.
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The Constitution of India, under Article 44, directs the government as follows: "The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India." However, ever since the Constitution came into force on January 26, 1950, no attempt has been made by the Indian government to draft a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for fear that political parties could lose Muslim votes.
Even civil society organisations and human rights activists have shied away from advocating a UCC for Indian citizens. This is a result of the prevailing erroneous belief that the uniform civil code is meant to curb personal laws, especially only of Muslims.
Contrarily, a uniform civil code was desired by the framers of the Constitution to ensure that basic fundamental rights of citizens, irrespective of their religious and other identities, are protected within a larger human rights framework.
The issue of UCC has emerged into India's political discourse recently because many Muslim women, affected adversely by the personal laws, have begun knocking on the doors of the Supreme Court to uphold their fundamental rights to equality and liberty in keeping with constitutional provisions. Therefore, more than ever before a realisation is gaining ground that a UCC will protect the constitutional rights of Indian citizens.
At present, no draft UCC exists that could enlighten the people of India regarding the specifics that will constitute such a code. Therefore, I began drafting a UCC and in this process was assisted by two gentlemen, Satya Prakash and Siddharth Singh, in their personal capacity.This is a result of the prevailing erroneous belief that the uniform civil code is meant to curb personal laws, especially only of Muslims. (Photo credit: Reuters)
This UCC is drafted within a broader context of a Universal Bill of Rights for the Indian citizen (Ubric). This draft UCC is the first-ever attempt to bring specific issues before the public for a wider discussion.
It is necessary to emphasise that the word "uniform" in the uniform civil code is not meant to homogenise the lifestyles and identities of Indian citizens but to ensure that certain fundamental rights to equality and liberty are protected for them by the Indian state.
An attempt has been made by us to address outstanding issues which are not limited to personal laws but have emerged into public discourse recently. Such issues include the lack of transparency in the functioning of political parties, Muslim women's quest for equality, gay rights, and selective use of the rule of law by government officials such as in the case of Kamlesh Tiwari, thereby creating gulf between communities and threatening the cohesion of India.
Therefore, this draft UCC is contextualised within the broader framework of a Universal Bill of Rights for the Indian Citizen. This 12-clause document is a working draft that we hope to improve through wider public consultation.
While the government may or may not introduce a UCC, we request journalists, politicians, authors, citizens, social activists and others to discuss the specifics of this draft UCC and try to take this debate forward among the people.
We must emphasise that contemporary India is a totally new society in which 55 per cent of its 1.3 billion people are below 25 years of age. This is a huge new population that is willing to shed ideas about caste and religion inherited from parents and religious leaders.
The social attitudes and aspirations of these new people living in India's territory are shaped essentially by the ideals enshrined in the Constitution of India. This is a constitutional generation of Indians which is clamouring for a uniform civil code to ensure that equal rights are available to all citizens, irrespective of religious and other identities.
Universal Bill of Rights for the Indian Citizen
We the people, whose attitudes and aspirations are shaped by the Constitution, recognising that there are shortcomings in laws, adopt this Universal Bill of Rights for the Indian Citizen, as under:
Clause 1 - The fundamental right to education shall be compulsorily available to the citizen till the age of 18. Education shall not mean religious education imparted through institutions of theological nature. A child's fundamental right to education shall override all other fundamental rights, except right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Clause 2 - The fundamental right to religion and beliefs shall be available only to the individual, not to communities and organisations. In disputes involving an individual's rights, the state or courts shall generally not accept interventions from organisations and groups of religious nature.
Clause 3 - Individuals, irrespective of gender, may marry under religious practices but after marriage, disputes involving divorce, joint property, child custody and alimony shall be decided under one law which shall override personal laws. No one can remarry before divorce obtained through a court. Parallel courts run by religious groups shall be deemed a criminal offence.
Clause 4 - Parliament, state legislatures and courts shall not make laws or issue orders based on religious scriptures of any community, in keeping with the secular nature of the republic. The Constitution itself shall be the source for such orders and for further legislative improvements.
Clause 5 - Citizens - irrespective of gender, religious persuasion or sexual orientation - shall a) inherit equal share in the ancestral/parental property, b) shall have equal right to adoption and will not bring up the adopted child as per their religious beliefs, and c) shall have equal right to succession. No tax benefits shall accrue to the individuals or groups for the reasons of religious and other identities.
Clause 6 - The citizen shall have unhindered freedom of thought and speech, which cannot be curtailed by the state for any reason, except when there is imminent danger to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India. The state shall not impose restrictions on books, magazines, movies, newspapers and the like with retrospective effect from January 26, 1950.
Clause 7 - Rule of law shall apply equally to every citizen. Government officials using the laws selectively under political or other consideration against some individuals, and not against others, within their jurisdiction shall cease to hold their position from the time such an omission or commission occurs.
Clause 8 - No citizen can be held in custody for more than 24 hours, and rarely to a maximum 90 days in serious cases such as terrorism and sedition, without being charge-sheeted before a court of law.
Clause 9 - The state, through the Election Commission, shall ensure organisational and financial transparency of political parties. Political parties can accept donations only through verifiable, recorded and cashless means of financial transaction. Elections of political parties shall be organised by the Election Commission. Violations shall make them liable to be de-recognised.
Clause 10 - A citizen shall be permitted to buy, sell or transfer land throughout the territory of India. Any existing laws that contravene this provision shall be deemed null and void.
Clause 11 - All children born throughout the territory of India including Gilgit Baltistan, which being the part of Jammu & Kashmir, shall have an automatic right to be the citizen of India.
Clause 12 - Use of words that describe individuals or groups of people in a discriminatory and hateful manner (examples thereof being bhangi, chamar, kafir, munafiq and the like) shall be a criminal offence. Such words could be of religious, caste, regional, gender or other demeaning connotation. It shall be dealt with by one law.
We appeal to the members of Parliament to enact this Bill as Law in fulfilment of the objectives set out in the Preamble of the Constitution and in particular Article 44 which says: "The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India."
Satya Prakash Tufail Ahmad Siddharth Singh
(This statement was released on November 30, 2016)