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Address commonalities of problems before UCC: experts

Panaji: Experts on the subject offered diverse views on Uniform Civil Code (UCC) which proposes to replace personal laws based on customs and traditions in major communities in the country.

At an Interactive Dialogue organised by Goa Study Group, in association with the International Centre Goa, former Union Minister for External Affairs and senior Congress leader Eduaro Faleiro suggested constitution of a consultative committee by the Centre.

This committee, he said, could comprise of former Supreme Court and high court judges, mainly from the Muslim community, moderate religious scholars and Muslim women representatives who could suggest draft amendments to the present Muslim law, which could then be considered by Parliament.

Controversial issue

Mr. Faleiro, who is also a lawyer with expertise in Portuguese Civil Code(PCC) still prevalent in this erstwhile Portuguese colony, termed the debate on a UCC as one of the most controversial issues in the Indian politics.

“Article 44 of Constitution in Directive Principles says that the State shall endeavour to secure all citizens an Uniform Civil Code throughout India. Article 44 cannot contradict in any manner Article 25 of the Constitution on the Fundamental Right to Freedom of Religion,” he said at the interaction held over the weekend.

The veteran Congressman recalled that the late Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had supported the idea of an UCC but did not want it to be forced upon any community.

Goa and UCC

“It is said that Goa is the only State of India with an UCC. It is not true. The usages and customs of the Hindu and Muslim communities are safeguarded by the Civil Code operating in Goa.” Mr. Faleiro said.

He added, “Catholic marriages in the church have civil effects automatically whilst in the other communities, the marriages have to be registered before the Civil Registrar. Adoptions are not permitted for Catholics whilst they are permitted for Hindus and Muslims,”

He also said that there was an optional Special Marriage Act of 1954 and it was available to all Indian citizens irrespective of religion.

Gender discrimination

The Principal of the city-based V. M. Salgaocar College of Law M. R. K. Prasad said UCC should be uniform across all communities and felt that first the commonality of the problems faced by all should be addressed.

He said, “Uniform Civil Code may be required to stop gender discrimination. Whether it is Hindu law, Muslim law or Christian law, they are predominantly male-dominated.”

Mr. Prasad added, “So equality should be brought first through a Uniform Civil Code as a model code. Let the people look at it, discuss, decide. May be it could be implemented through consensus in the course of time.”

Member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board Fakhira Ateeq said, “India is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious country, we simply cannot control a system which is tiny part of a religion. How can we manage uniform civil code in all religions.”

She added, “Enforcing anything forcibly will result in devastating consequences. If there are problems in implementation and laws are misinterpreted then law cannot be blamed.”

‘Unity in diversity’

Ms. Ateeq said, “[The] Beauty of our country is unity in diversity. So all communities derive their personal laws based on their beliefs and faith. UCC will disturb those crucial fabrics. Central Government has come up with an idea of UCC to ensure that we are governed by a law.

She added, “”According to Indian legal system in the procedural laws, there are criminal laws and civil laws. Criminal laws are already being applied uniformly. Even major part of civil laws apply uniformly, except family laws. Question is which kind of uniformity our current government is looking at? We do not have a common God, worship system, rituals, or festivals. How can be family laws common?''

In Goa, the prevailing PCC under which registration of marriage is mandatory, among others, ensures financial empowerment of a married woman and progeny of the spouses. The PCC ensures that the spouses are entitled to equal share in the "communion of property" comprising husband and wife.

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