In a landmark move, Uttarakhand has become the first state in independent India to pass legislation on a Uniform Civil Code. The Bill, which was passed by the Assembly on Wednesday, was one of the key promises of the BJP in the lead-up to the Assembly election in the state in 2022, and features some controversial clauses as well, including making the registration of live-in relationships mandatory.
The Uniform Civil Code aims to provide a legal framework for a uniform marriage, divorce, land, property and inheritance laws for all citizens, irrespective of their religion. In June last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a big push for a Uniform Civil Code and said the country couldn’t run on two laws, much like it didn’t work to have “different sets of rules for different members of a family”.
Speaking after the Bill was passed, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said, “This legislation was long awaited. I thank all MLAs and the people of the state for helping us pass the Bill. I also want to thank PM Narendra Modi, who inspired us, and under whose guidance the Bill was passed. This law is not against anybody, but is aimed at helping all sections of society, especially women, and ensuring that they get their rights.”
Some of the key elements of the Bill are a complete ban on polygamy and child marriage, a standardised marriageable age for girls across religions, and a uniform process for divorce. The Bill will not apply to Scheduled Tribes.
The legislation, which also aims to ensure equality among communities in terms of inheritance rights, makes marriage registration mandatory and states that couples failing to register their marriages will be ineligible for government facilities. It also increases the marriageable age for girls to ensure that they can complete their education before they get married.
While granting adoption rights to all, including Muslim women, the Uniform Civil Code bans practices that some sections of Muslim society follow when a woman loses her husband or gets divorced, including nikah halala and iddat.
One of the controversial sections of the bill pertains to live-in relationships. Not only does it make the registration of such relationships mandatory but also states that the parents of the couple will be notified if they are adults under the age of 21. Mandatory registration of such relationships extends to “any resident of Uttarakhand… in a live-in relationship outside the State”.
Failure to submit live-in relationship declarations, or providing false information, could land a person in jail for three months, attract a fine of Rs 25,000, or both. Even a month’s delay in registration could trigger a jail term of up to three months, a fine of Rs 10,000, or both.
The opposition and many youngsters have called this an invasion of privacy but the BJP has dubbed it a “modern move”.
“If you are in a live-in relationship with someone openly in society, what’s the harm in getting yourself registered? Going by this standard, we would still be having sati pratha and women behind ghoonghat (veil). As the society evolves, you need to regulate new practices. It’s a modern move and not an attempt to invade anyone’s privacy,” said Uttarakhand Child and Women Welfare Minister Rekha Arya.
The UCC also recognises children born out of live-in relationships as a “legitimate child of the couple” and ensures that they get equal rights in inheritance.
The Bill will become law once it gets the Governor’s assent. Other BJP-rules states, including Rajasthan and Assam, have said that they also plan to pass similar legislation.