In what he called a “historic moment”, and the Opposition slammed as a “poll gimmick”, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami tabled the State’s Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill in the Assembly on Tuesday.
If the Bill is passed, Uttarakhand will become the first State in independent India to enact a uniform law for all communities with regard to marriage, divorce, succession, and live-in relationships. However, the Scheduled Tribes, which constitutes 2.9% of the State’s population, have been kept out of the ambit of this Bill.
In a dramatic start to the proceedings, Mr. Dhami strode into the Assembly with the Constitution of India in hand, accompanied by Finance Minister Prem Chandra Agarwal holding a copy of the UCC Bill whose cover page featured an image of a barefoot Lady Justice carrying the usual balance scales, but without her traditional blindfold, which is usually meant to indicate her impartiality.
After Mr. Dhami tabled the Bill, BJP legislators — who hold 47 seats in the 70-member Assembly — started chanting slogans such as “Vande Mataram”, “Jai Shree Ram”, and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”.
Calling it a historic moment, Mr. Dhami said that after the UCC Bill was passed, Uttarakhand would become the first State to implement uniform laws for all, adding that the legislation did not tamper with the traditions and customs of any religion, caste, or sect.
In fact, Goa also has a uniform civil code for people from all religions; after its 1961 liberation, it retained the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867.
“Under the UCC, marriages will only take place only between one man and one woman. Special attention has been paid to the rights of children and their protection, whether legitimate or illegitimate. The age of marriage has been set at 21 years for boys and 18 years for girls,” said Mr. Dhami.
In matters related to divorce, men and women would have the same rights, he said, adding that this would end “evil practices” such as ‘Halala’ and ‘Iddat’. The UCC Bill provides for a three-year imprisonment or a fine of ₹1 lakh, or both, for a person found committing ‘Halala’.
The CM asked the Opposition to support the Bill and have a healthy debate over it. However, Leader of Opposition Yashpal Arya said that he failed to understand the logic behind the urgency being shown by the BJP government in tabling the UCC Bill, calling it a “poll gimmick”.
“They expect us to read such a lengthy document, which was submitted a couple of days ago, and start the discussion. It looks like the government is trying to hide something,” he said. “You have full majority to pass the Bill, but it would have been better to give the Opposition some time to prepare,” he added.
The Bill says that if one person in a married couple changes his religion without the consent of the other person, then the other person will have the full right to file for a divorce and maintenance allowance. It will also prohibit a second marriage if one of the spouses is alive.
The UCC Bill will make it mandatory to register marriages and divorces, failing which the couple concerned will be deprived of the benefits of all government facilities. In case of a divorce or domestic dispute between husband and wife, the custody of any child up to five years of age will remain with the mother.
The Bill also has stringent provisions for a failure to register live-in relationships. If a couple does not register their live-in status with the district administration within a month, they can face a maximum punishment of up to three months imprisonment. Also, if live-in partners share any false information during the registration, they will face imprisonment for up to three months or a fine not exceeding ₹25,000, or both.
All children treated equally
The children born out of such live-in relationships will be considered the legitimate children of the couple under the UCC. The Bill also proposes to give equal rights in property inheritance to sons and daughters for all classes, with no distinctions between legitimate or illegitimate children, biological or adopted children, or children born through surrogacy or assisted reproductive technologies.
After the death of a person, his wife and children will be given equal rights in his property along with the deceased’s parents, under the Bill. In previous laws, only the mother had rights in the property of the deceased.