Before going to discuss what UCC mean, let me first inform as to why UCC became very controversial. After the 1984 Sikh riots, there was a Supreme Court verdict in 1985 on Shah Bano case which, which dismissed the Islamic law of maintenance and upheld the decree in favour of Shah Bano under section 125 of all India criminal code applicable to all citizens of India irrespective of their religion. That means even if Shah Bano's husband fulfilled maintenance condition under Muslim law, still he becomes a criminal as per the Indian criminal code. The apex court gave the verdict on the basis of equality of every citizen before the law.
This created severe reaction from Muslim clerics and Muslim leaders. Rajiv Gandhi government, which was losing the Sikh minority votes started getting worried on the possibilities of losing Muslim voters as well. Thus because of their brute strength in the Parliament, they passed a bill of Muslim women's protection of right on divorce Act 1986, which made Section-125 of All India Criminal Code applicable to Muslim women and their maintenance.
After this bill in fact, politics found a way in, Hindu right wing started opposing the bill claiming that this is contrary to the mandate of Uniform Civil Code, where as Muslims treat Uniform Civil Code as anti-Muslim. Thus politicizing the UCC for vested interest made it very controversial.
The intent of this article is to put the uniform civil code in right perspective and to understand what it means and why it's required.
The personal laws by religion are now being applied on four subjects that are adoption, inheritance, marriage and divorce. Different religions provide different laws to the above issues. The real intention of the Uniform Civil Code is, as all citizens are equal stake holder in the democracy and all are entitled equal right to have justice as per the constitution, thus none should be discriminated at any cost only because s/he belongs to a particular religion! In fact such uniform civil code is practiced in all democracies.
Let me discuss the inheritance provision and the anomalies due to different religious laws. I will cite two examples.
First, let's consider inheritance of Mr. X who is survived by two grand children only. One is his son's son and another is his daughter's son. Both son and daughter too died earlier and Mr. X has no will. Now who will inherit his property?
As per Hindu and Muslim law, Son's son will get preference over daughter's son in getting the property of Mr. X as both religion believes in Son's line of inheritance. If Mr. X is Parsi or Christian then there would be equal distribution of his property to both the grandson's as there is no discrimination between the grandsons (son of son or daughter) there.
Now definitely as per the Hindu and Muslim religion, son of the daughter is discriminated because s/he born in those religion! Had their religion been Christianity or Parsi, then he would have got the share and justice. Similarly the son of son in the religion of Christianity and Parsi must be feeling discriminated as he has to share the property with his cousin (son of his aunt) only because he does not belong to Muslim or a Hindu family.
Let's take another example. Mr. Y died leaving a property. He has his spouse, aging parents and kids. Now let's consider the inheritance as per different personal laws. If Mr. Y belongs to Muslim or a Parsi family then his property would be inherited by five basic relations that are father, mother, spouse, son and daughter. Although between Parsis and Muslims the size of share is different, let's take that all five is getting a share.
If Mr. Y is a Christian and has children, his aging parents are automatically excluded from the inheritance list. They would get nothing from Mr. Y's property. If Mr. Y is childless, the father will inherit the property, whereas mother remains excluded in inheritance right!
In case Mr. Y is Hindu and childless then his father remains excluded from inheritance.
From above examples it's clear that looking from one's personal law angle, it appears someone from another religion is being discriminated. Such discrimination exists only because one belongs to a particular religion, which is not as per the Constitutional spirit, which lays down that all citizens are equal with equal rights and justice irrespective of caste, creed, race and religion.
Now which inheritance law is to be adopted as uniform civil code? Well that needs a discussion and deliberation among different communities (religions) and best agreed formula is to be followed. Now at least on inheritance subject, is there any imposition or secular-communal angle? Certainly not! It's an attempt to ensure basic tenets and spirit of the Constitution of this country.