Justice Katju: Uniform Civil Code

Justice Markandey Katju-

Justice Markandey Katju

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman of, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

The state assembly of the state of Uttarakhand is the first in India to have passed a bill for a Uniform Civil Code ( UCC ) for all religious communities ( except tribals ) about marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.

While the ruling BJP in India supports this move ( it was part of its election manifesto ), many Indian Muslims oppose it.

I do not support the BJP ( or any political party in India ), but I fully support UCC and have said so on many occasions earlier.




I have always condemned atrocities or oppression of Muslims, but in my opinion sharia ( the Muslim personal law ) has harmed Muslims, by contributing to keeping them backward.

Law is a reflection of social relations in a society at a particular stage of its historical development. Hence when society changes, the law too must change. How can a law made in the 7th century in Arabia be the law in the 21st century when society has changed in these 1400 years? Can we have Manusmriti for Hindus today? Can we have stoning a woman to death for adultery or chopping off a thief’s hands today? Is the discrimination against women, by granting daughters only half as much as sons, or requiring twice as many women witnesses as men, or granting the right of oral divorce to men but not to women, or the nefarious practice of nikah halaala, supportable in modern times?

I strongly support religious freedom, which is incorporated as a fundamental right of all citizens vide Article 25 in India’s Constitution. But in my opinion, sharia is not a core part of Islam, like saying namaz, going to masjids, observing roza on Ramadan, celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha, or going on Haj, and if these are sought to be abolished I will strongly oppose that.

To say that if Sharia is abolished Islam will be abolished is talking nonsense. The old, non-statutory Hindu law ( which did not permit divorce to Hindus, and permitted polygamy ) was almost entirely abolished by the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 ( which permits divorce on certain grounds by a court decree, and provides for monogamy ), the Hindu Succession Act, 1956 ( which grants inheritance to daughters of their deceased fathers’ property, which was not granted earlier ), etc. But this did not abolish Hinduism. Hindus still go to temples, perform puja, etc.

It may be noted that UCC does not forbid marriages according to religious rites. All that it requires is the registration of such marriages, and this is a salutary step, as it avoids future disputes.

Article 44 of the Indian Constitution directed the state to enact UCC, and though this was not an enforceable provision ( vide Aricle 37 ) yet it was regarded as fundamental in the governance of the country.  Article 37 states :

“The  provisions contained in this Part shall not be enforceable by any court, but the principles therein laid down are nevertheless fundamental in the governance of the country and it shall be the duty of the State to apply these principles in making laws ”.

Reactionary Muslim clerics ( maulanas ) and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board ( which consists mostly of reactionary Muslim clerics ) opposed the Shahbano verdict of the Indian Supreme Court of 1985  which held that a Muslim husband must give maintenance to his divorced wife, as according to them this was opposed to the sharia.

This was a progressive, humanitarian decision, for how could a divorced woman, many having children, survive without maintenance? All modern countries provide for it in some way. Yet the maulanas raised such hue and cry over it that the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, fearing loss of his Muslim vote bank, got it annulled by Parliament.

It is time now that Indian Muslims get out of the clutches of the reactionary maulanas, and get modernized. That alone is the path to their prosperity. Sharia must be totally abolished, and the UCC will do that.




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