The Law Commission of India had published a questionnaire in 2016 seeking views and suggestions of the public on Uniform Civil Code (UCC). The Commission received 45,000 suggestions on its questionnaire and recently commented that in case UCC does not come out, it will recommend “piecemeal” amendments to various religion based family laws.
Codifying all religion into one has been one of the oldest debates in independent India. And public opinion on the issue has been sharply divided. With the Narendra Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, UCC has once again come to the fore.
UCC was discussed in the Constituent Assembly as well. Giving context to the term “piecemeal” legislation, it was first used on November 23, 1948 by KM Munshi during a debate on the UCC. Article 35, the then UCC provision, was under discussion in the Constituent Assembly. KM Munshi, a Congress leader from Gujarat, was in favour of UCC and it was he who defined what a “piecemeal” legislation is.
The idea of codified law met with several arguments in the Constituent Assembly like infringement of fundamental rights and “tyrannous” to minority.
“Is it tyrannical? Nowhere in advanced Muslim countries the personal law of each minority has been recognised as so sacrosanct as to prevent the enactment of a Civil Code,” Munshi had said.
Munshi illustrated Europe which, follows a civic code and every person or minority residing in the country falls under the umbrella. Retaliating against religious practices in daily life, Munshi elucidated that “these matters are not religion, they are purely matters for secular legislation.”
During the debate Munshi laid down his view and said, “We want to divorce religion from personal law, from what may be called social relations or from the rights of parties as regards inheritance or succession. What have these things got to do with religion I really fail to understand.”
Munshi illustrated with an example of various schools present in Hindu law like Mithakshara, Dayabagha in Bengal and Mayukha applying in other parts of the country. He explained that Hindus have separate laws based on different schools and during that time, provinces and States had begun formulating their separate laws. This “piecemeal” legislation was what Munshi feared would affect the personal laws of the country.
“It is therefore not merely a question for minorities but it also affects the majority,” Munshi had remarked.
“Religion must be restricted to spheres which legitimately appertain to religion, and the rest of life must be regulated, unified and modified in such a manner that we may evolve, as early as possible a strong and consolidated nation. Our first problem and the most important problem is to produce national unity in this country. We think we have got national unity,” Munshi concluded.