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Goa civil code: Equality assured* – *conditions apply
India is a country of diverse people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Governing a country with such different identities is a tough task, and that is one of the reasons we have personal laws in India regarding marriage, separation and succession among other things.

The Christians have their Christian marriage act 1872, the Indian separation act 1869 and the Indian progression act 1925. The Jews have their unmodified standard marriage laws and in their progression matters they are administered by progression demonstration of 1925. In the same way, the Parsis, Hindus and Muslim have their own marriage and divorce acts and their own separate laws of inheritance contained in the succession act.

Recently, there has been an outcry for a Uniform Civil Code which would mean that the family laws would be same for every Indian irrespective of their religion, caste or creed. This is the result of several cases of injustice being done in the name of law. Practices such as 'triple talaq' have been major driving forces behind fueling this demand.

While the whole country is protesting and contesting for a Uniform civil code, Goa already has one. Goa is the only Indian state that has a uniform civil code. In Goa, all Hindus, Muslims and Christians are bound with the same law related to marriage, divorce, succession. When Goa became part of the Indian Union in 1961 by virtue of the Goa Daman and Diu administration act 1962, the parliament authorised the Portuguese civil code of 1867 in Goa, which was to be amended and repealed by the competent legislature. It has had a few amendments over time, most recent being the Goa succession act in the year 2012, but the basic idea still remains the same.

The Goa civil code has been deemed progressive and has been presented as an example for the whole country. And with provisions such as: "a) Any form of polygamy or bigamy is strictly prohibited under the Goa civil code except for certain special cases."; "b) Under the law, communion of assets is mandatory, which means that as soon as the person gets married his spouse automatically gets half of the assets, thus each having undivided rights over other assets." Also, there is no provision for a verbal divorce. It seems as the perfect law, which finally provides equality to the other sex, although, only superficially.

It is clear to see why most of the Goans take pride in their civil code. However, what's not clear is the fact that the Goa civil code in all its glory is very much sexist and unjust.

Under the Goa civil code, "Hindu men have the right to bigamy under specific circumstances mentioned in Codes of Usages and Customs of Gentile Hindus of Goa (if the wife fails to deliver a child by the age of 25, or if she fails to deliver a male child by the age of 30)." While on one hand the code promises not to allow polygamy, on the other, there's a written law in the code that supports polygamy based on specific grounds, which is disgracing to note.

Apart from this, the uniform civil code has other loopholes as well. In the case of equal distribution of assets after marriage, though the ownership is shared, but the management of assets stays with the husband. So, the husband can rent out a joint property without the consent of his wife. Moreover, if the husband dies, the law puts the wife way down in the line of succession of her husband's share. She only comes after his children, parents and siblings. So, while on surface the provision may seem as an armour for women's rights over inheritance, it doesn't necessarily comply with it.

Another major problem with the Goa civil code is that it is written in Portuguese and not much time or effort has been invested in translating its various provisions in English or any other official language. This leads to legal ambiguity surrounding the civil code. Most of the people are unaware of the various laws and provisions mentioned in the civil code. Even the lawyers and the judiciary have had issues interpreting them.

The law is a reminisce of the Portuguese civil code of 1867, which ironically had been replaced by the Portuguese in 1967, 6 years after they gave Goa its independence and Goa became a part of the Indian Union. It needs to be realised that though the law seems polished from above, it has some very discriminatory elements in its provisions. Changes are required which may be difficult as the Goa civil code is a matter of pride and a historical symbol the state's "unique" identity.

Another interesting fact is that Goa is currently being ruled by the BJP, a party which has been opposing Muslim family laws deeming them discriminatory and oppressive of the rights of Muslim women. However, the same BJP's government in Goa has done little or nothing regarding amending the Goa civil code, in fact, has even abstained from speaking about it.

We are in the 21st century and today the need of equality is more than ever. Laws with provision such as the ones in the Goa civil code are outdated and need to be changed for the better. A country with such diverse people may be hard to govern but it also gives us perfect conditions to display how equality works.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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