Focus on gender equality, raising the marriageable age of women to 21, equal rights for daughters in ancestral properties, legal rights for LGBTQ couples and registration of live-in relationships. These are some of the suggestions an expert committee, constituted by the BJP government in Uttarakhand to examine issues relating to the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC), is likely to make in its report, The Sunday Express has learnt.
However, the most crucial will be the committee’s recommendation on the suggestion for uniformity in the number of children that a couple can have — a suggestion being viewed as a backdoor entry for a population control policy.
Seven months into consultations, the five-member committee, led by former Supreme Court judge, Justice Ranjana Prakash Desai, has received an “overwhelming suggestion” from a wide range of stakeholders that there should be uniformity in the number of children for a couple, a source said.
“The committee has been flooded with suggestions as people are concerned about the population explosion. They ask what will happen to human rights and how will we ensure equality and rights to children from weaker sections of the society? The committee will take all the suggestions seriously before finalising the report,” the source said.
The committee, which has already consulted more than 2.5 lakh people since it was formed in May this year, is expected to submit its report in three months. It was formed immediately after the Pushkar Singh Dhami-led BJP government returned to power earlier this year to fulfil the party’s poll promise of introducing UCC in the state.
Suggestions for uniformity in the number of children a couple can have echo the RSS reiteration for a comprehensive population policy. In his annual Vijayadashami speech at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur in October, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat flagged the need for a “comprehensive population control policy” that would apply to all “equally”, and said it was in the national interest to keep an eye on “population imbalance”.
The Centre, in an affidavit in the Supreme Court, has underlined that the Constitution obligates the state to have a UCC for citizens. It said citizens belonging to different religions and denominations following different property and matrimonial laws “is an affront to the nation’s unity”.
This assumes significance as the implementation of UCC — it has long been a commitment of the BJP and RSS though there have been objections from various sections of society including minorities and tribal communities — has also become an election plank in several states.
Apart from Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, where counting of votes for the Assembly seats will take place December 8, the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh also has announced its decision to form a committee to look at implementation of the UCC in the state.
Last month, Union Home Minister Amit Shah said UCC has been a promise of the BJP since its Bharatiya Jan Sangh days. “Not only the BJP, the Constituent Assembly also advised Parliament and states that UCC should come in the country at an opportune time. For any secular country, laws should not be on the basis of religion. If a nation and states are secular, how can laws be based on religion? For every believer, there should be one law passed by Parliament or the state assemblies,” he said.
The 21st Law Commission, the term of which ran out in August 2018, had said that a UCC “is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage” in the country.
In October this year, the Centre told the Supreme Court that the matter will now be placed before the 22nd Law Commission.
Responding to petitions seeking uniformity in laws governing matters of divorce, succession, inheritance, adoption and guardianship, the Centre, in an affidavit, underlined that the Constitution obligates the state to have a Uniform Civil Code for citizens. It said citizens belonging to different religions and denominations following different property and matrimonial laws “is an affront to the nation’s unity”.
The Uttarakhand expert panel’s recommendations on the implementation of UCC, a source said, would not “be on religious lines” but “to ensure gender equality and the rights of women”.
The committee has the mandate to look also into laws regulating personal civil matters such as marriage, divorce, property rights, succession, inheritance, adoption, maintenance, custody and guardianship for the state residents.
“The committee, however, has no intention to suggest changes in the existing practices, customs, traditions or marriage rituals etc. It is focussing on ensuring equal rights for women who constitute 50 per cent of the population. During consultations, many women complained about not having equal rights in ancestral properties, marriage contracts, etc. At a meeting with Muslim clerics in Haldwani, they also suggested the bad practices that hurt women should be done away with. There is overwhelming support for it,” the source said.
There is near unanimity on raising the marriageable age of girls to 21 so that they can at least complete graduation, the source said.
“Many suggestions have come on compulsory registration of marriages to prevent cheating. Another suggestion is to ensure registration of live-in relationships so that cheating and fraud can be avoided. It is also to ensure rights for the children born out of live-in relations. With the Supreme Court decriminalising homosexuality, there is a clamour for legal backing for protecting the rights of LGBTQ couples,” the source said.
The committee had taken suggestions from residents, state-based organisations, government and non-government organisations, religious bodies, social groups and communities as well as political parties.