The idea of a Universal Civil Code: What Indians at large think of it

In 2004, 66% of Muslims were opposed to the idea of uniform laws for all citizens. (HT_PRINT)
In 2004, 66% of Muslims were opposed to the idea of uniform laws for all citizens. (HT_PRINT)


Surveys show that support for it has risen but variation in opinion by religion poses some opposition parties a dilemma

There is a possibility of the issue of a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) becoming an important electoral issue during the forthcoming assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and of course during the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. In a public rally in the capital of Madhya Pradesh, Bhopal, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, placing emphasis on the need for a UCC, said “How can the country be run on two (laws)? The Constitution also talks of equal rights… The Supreme Court has also asked the government to implement UCC."

Evidence from surveys conducted by Lokniti-CSDS over a period of time indicates increasing support for uniform laws for people of all religious communities. In 2004, in a national survey, 27% of respondents supported the idea of a uniform laws for people of all religious communities, while 53% were of the opinion that people of different religions should be allowed to follow their own laws with regard to marriage and property. But in 2017, support uniform laws increased to 38%, while those supporting the idea of people of different religion having their own laws on marriage and property declined to 47% (see Table 1).

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The reason for UCC support is very simple: a large number of Indians believe that the law of the land should be equal for every citizen living in the country and people of different religions should not be allowed to have their own laws for marriage and property.

While there is increasing public support for the idea of a UCC for all Indians, as seen in survey results, this opinion is not shared equally among citizens belonging to all religious communities. Hindus seems to be the most enthusiastic about the idea that laws should be equal for all citizens, while Muslims in India are the most opposed to this idea. Among Hindus, support for the idea of the country having the same laws for all citizens irrespective of religion has increased from 28% in 2004 to 40 % in 2017. Among Muslims, however, we hardly notice any change in opinion on this issue over the years. In 2004, 66% of Muslims were opposed to the idea of uniform laws for all citizens. The figure that emerged in 2017 was 63% when Muslim respondents were asked the same question in the national survey.

Other minority groups like Christians and Sikhs are not as opposed as Muslims to the adoption of a UCC by India, but there is clear evidence of opposition to this idea even among Sikhs who constitute 1.7% of the Indian population and Christians who are 2.3% of the overall headcount, as per the Census of India, 2011 (see Table 2).

Separate laws for religious communities in India mainly cover issues related to marriage and property rights. It is a commonly believed that Muslim women are at the receiving end of unfairness on account of the practice of Muslim men being allowed up to four marriages and also the practice of Triple Talaq, by which a Muslim man can easily divorce his wife. As the survey results indicate, the idea of a UCC is opposed slightly more by Muslim men than by Muslim women. Slightly more of the latter are in support of having a uniform law to govern marriage and property rules for all Indians irrespective of their religion. In general, there is evidence of some change in Muslim attitudes towards this issue (see Table 3).

An analysis of class-wise patterns of opposition to the UCC idea shows that lower- and middle-class Muslims oppose it more than the rich and poor of this religious group. Perhaps the practice of (or adherence to) Muslim Personal Law is greater among lower- and middle-class Muslim families than the rest, which may possibly explain the class-wise difference observed.

The issue of a Uniform Civil Code is likely to echo in public spaces once election campaigns for assembly and Lok Sabha membership get underway. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which currently holds power at the centre and in several states, would certainly like to draw political mileage from this issue by presenting it to electorates as the need of the hour. Opposition parties like the Indian National Congress that have a support base among Muslim voters in the country would find it difficult to take a clear stand on a UCC. They would be caught in a dilemma over their stance. Supporting the idea of a UCC could mean such a party becomes unpopular among a sizeable proportion of Muslim voters, while opposition to a UCC would be seen widely among Hindu voters as another form of ‘Muslim appeasement’. The way forward for many opposition parties on this issue is not going to be easy.

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