Apex court’s reminder on common civil code

It is heartening that the Supreme Court has drawn attention to the shocking procrastination of governments to the adoption of a uniform civil code in the country.

In all fairness to the Narendra Modi government, it has its mind set on it and going by its record of speedy action on contentious issues like abrogation of Article 370 which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, and on the issue of triple talaq among Muslims, there is fair degree of hope that this could well be the next big step.

The erstwhile Congress government dragged its feet because of vote bank considerations. Significantly, the issue has come to the fore with the steamroller win of the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and its repeat performance earlier this year.

The Directive Principles of State Policy provided for the goal of a uniform civil code but 63 years have elapsed since the reformation of Hindu law in 1956 without any action on this.

In a scathing judgement delivered last Friday, the apex court criticised the Indian State’s lack of will to frame the code, forcing Article 44 to remain a “dead letter” despite repeated exhortations by the judiciary at periodic intervals.

The court referred to the judgments in the 1985 Shah Bano case, as also the Sarla Mudgal and John Vallamattom cases. But as former union minister and current Governor of Kerala Arif Mohammad Khan has pointed out, directive principles are not judicially enforceable “but fundamental to governance.”

Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose who delivered the judgement in the Supreme Court on Friday last held that the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867 would govern the succession and inheritance of properties of Goans since change in socio-political climate augurs well for fresh thinking on UCC.

The BJP’s ideological and political hegemony makes such a discussion conducive. A uniform civil code did not hold in India.

By its nudge to the government to act on the uniform civil code, the apex court has reminded it of its obligation to think along the lines that the Constitution envisaged.

A healthy debate can now ensue for a worthy law that protects the principle of uniformity with no discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, race or religion.

The minorities must gracefully accept with a national perspective without sticking to old, individualistic opinions based on dogmas that had best be given up in overall interest. The change in socio-political climate augurs well for fresh thinking on a uniform civil code.

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