As the Telangana Assembly Elections near, discussions around the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) again take the center stage. On November 18, 2023, the BJP vowed to introduce the Uniform Civil Code in Telangana if it emerges victorious in the November 30 Assembly Elections. Amit Shah, Union Home Minister, unveiled the BJP's manifesto, and reiterated the party's commitment to establish a committee within six months for the UCC's implementation in the state.
UCC is mentioned in Part IV of the Constitution which lists the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP). Article 44 in DPSP states that “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”.
The UCC aims to create impartial, uniform laws across religions concerning marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance for all Indian citizens. Notably, current inheritance laws shows disparities, particularly affecting Muslim and Parsi daughters who lack equal rights to inheritance.
At present, when a person passes away without a will, the succession laws determine the transfer of the deceased's assets to legal heirs.
The proposed UCC draft has not been released by the Centre. However, considering proggressive global legal trends surrounding law making, it's expected to eliminate gender-based disparities in inheritance, unlike the present scenario. "The current scenario of inheritance and succession laws in India is characterized by a diversity of regulations applicable based on factors such as religion, domicile, and community sect," Aviral Kapoor, Partner Alagh and Kapoor Law offices said.
The Hindu Succession Act of 1956 governing Hindu marriages allows daughters to have an equal share as sons in the property. Legitimacy is recognised for heirs born out of voidable marriages or out of wedlock. However they are not without disparities. "Despite amendments to the Hindu Succession Act in 2005, gender-based disparities persist in the distribution of property, particularly in cases of intestate succession. The discrimination in favor of matrimonial relatives for women contradicts the principles of equality outlined in Article 15 of the Constitution of India," Kapoor added.
Meanwhile, Christian succession laws resemble Hindu laws in distributing inheritance among children with minimal differences but do not recognize children born outside wedlock. According to Kapoor, Minority communities, including Jews, Christians, and Parsis, are governed by the Indian Succession Act, 1925, which also exhibits patriarchal tendencies favoring male heirs.
In contrast to these laws, Muslim Personal Law stipulates that a Muslim man can bequeath only one-third of his assets by will unless all heirs agree otherwise. Further, female heirs receive half the share of male heirs, and a Muslim woman's entitlement to her husband's property varies based on if she has children. Illegitimate children are not acknowledged, and failure to pay inherited debts can forfeit an heir's claim. "Indian Muslims follow uncodified Quranic principles, with notable differences between Sunni and Shia laws. These differences, such as the treatment of widows and daughters, reflect gender biases that need addressing to align with constitutional principles," Kapoor said.
Moreover, if all the laws are uniformised, UCC's potential implementation could also alter the separate legal status of Hindu Undivided Families (HUFs) accorded by the Income Tax to them. HUF is currently eligible for basic exemption thresholds, slab rates of personal taxation, tax deductions, and exemptions (section 80C of up to Rs 1.5 lakh), home loans, deductions on medicare premiums paid for its members etc. The change from UCC may affect lakhs of HUFs in India currently availing tax exemptions.
In conclusion, Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is essential to eliminate gender discrimination and foster equality, Kapoor notes. The UCC's implementation would contribute to communal harmony, addressing conflicting ideologies within personal laws, as seen in the Sarla Mudgal case. Varied personal laws within the same religion, like in Kerala, result in unnecessary complexities, he said.