Another step towards UCC? Law Commission wants mandatory marriage registration
A Uniform Civil Code (UCC) for all citizens of India has long been on the manifesto of the Bharatiya Janata Party. But, owing to many complexities, it has remained a hot potato.
Now, the Law Commission of India has put out a report recommending compulsory registration of marriages. And this may well give impetus to the BJP's ambitions of bringing uniformity to the country's religion-based personal laws.
The Law Commission, in its 270th report submitted to the government on Tuesday, recommended as a “necessary reform” the enactment of a law to mandate registration of marriages for all Indian citizens, irrespective of religion or caste.
Besides personal laws and those like the Hindu Marriage Act, the Indian Christian Marriage Act, and the Special Marriage Act (1954), various states and Union Territories have also enacted laws for registering marriages.
With the plethora of existing laws, the Commission said an amended law would enable better implementation of civil as well as criminal matrimonial laws.
It clarified that the recommendation is not aimed at eliminating the diversity of personal laws, and does not aim to nullify the existing provisions for registration of marriages under different state laws.
The Commission, in 2008, had made a similar recommendation, but the UPA government then in power sat on it, fearing a Muslim backlash.
Then, in 2012, in its second term, the UPA government introduced in the Rajya Sabha an amendment to make registration of marriage compulsory under the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969.
Passed by the Upper House in August 2013, the Bill never reached the Lok Sabha for consideration, and lapsed following the dissolution of the 15th Lok Sabha.
Under the NDA regime, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in 2014, had asserted that the government would bringing the Bill afresh, but nothing has materialised yet.
The Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government in Uttar Pradesh is also in the process of bringing in a law to make marriage registration mandatory for all in the state, including Muslims.
The Modi government now may consider introducing the Bill in the Monsoon Session of Parliament, which beginning 17 July.
Reacting to the developments, a BJP leader said: “It may appear farfetched to believe that the law mandating the registration of marriages may pave way for the Uniform Civil Code. But it could well be a beginning. Muslims are opposed to any law which they consider as infringing on their personal laws. Acceptance of this law from the community will surely be encouraging.”
The leader also said the party was always conscious of promises made in the manifesto.
“The government has repeatedly proved that the country's welfare is paramount, and is not guided by political considerations, nor does it believe in appeasement,” he added.
The Law Commission's recommendation comes at a time when the country is eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court's verdict on triple talaaq – another contentious issue.
The BJP has been vocal in criticising triple talaaq, calling for its abolition. It had made this a major issue in the UP polls, where it won a massive mandate.
However, on the issue of the UCC, the BJP has not been as assertive.
But with BJP leaders having already admitted on record that they do not expect Muslims to vote for them, the party may look to make headway.
VHP demands, AIMPLB dismisses
Demands for the UCC have been steadily gathering steam. The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has been steadfast in its demand for the UCC has started to raise the pitch.
“GST proves the government has full majority to pass any law. Now it should pass the Uniform Civil Code too, without giving an excuse of no majority,” said VHP international working president Pravin Togadia.
However, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), dismissed suggestions that a law on marriage registration would pave the way for UCC.
“We are opposed to a law for compulsory registration of marriage only to the extent if it invalidates a marriage on account of non-registration. Even if such a law is passed and accepted by minorities, it in no way paves the way for uniform civil code,” AIMPLB member Kamal Faruqui said.
“The UCC is a utopia, especially in a country like India with diverse religions, customs and beliefs. It is not just about Muslims, or Christians, or even minorities. Even Hindus have different laws, customs, practices, and they will not accept any dilution. The BJP can make whatever assertions it may want to, but even it knows that the UCC is an impossibility,” added Faruqui.