On the occasion of the 130th Birth Anniversary of Dr BR Ambedkar, it would be pertinent to discuss a few anecdotes from the Constituent Assembly Debates.
While inaugurating the High Court Building in Goa recently, Chief Justice of India SA Bobde said, “I would request all those intellectuals to simply come here and watch the administration of justice to know what it turns out to be.” And further stated “Goa has what the constitutional framers envisaged for India — a Uniform Civil Code, and I have had the great privilege of administering justice under that code”.
The Uniform Civil Code is not a new topic of debate as it has been continuing since the time the framers of the Constitution deliberated upon it. Ambedkar, who is often called the ‘Father of the Constitution’, as the Chairman of the Drafting committee, was clearly in favour of the Uniform Civil Code in the Constituent assembly debates.
According to Article 44 of the Constitution of India, 1950 , “State shall endeavour to provide for its citizens a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) throughout the territory of India.” A Uniform Civil Code aims to replace personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of various religious communities, with a common set of rules governing every citizen of the country. Till today, this idea has elicited mixed reactions. The Muslim community seems to have deep reservations against the UCC.
Ambedkar along with many political stalwarts were proponents of a Uniform Civil Code. Many members including Nazirrudin Ahmad were against it claiming that the religious laws of different communities should not be affected without their consent. The resistance against the UCC also came from orthodox Hindus who felt that that the UCC will affect their personal laws, which they believe are governed by the shastras. Ambedkar was of the view that the laws were grossly discriminatory in nature where women were given little to no rights.
During the Assembly debates, KM Munshi, Alladi Krishnawamy and Ambedkar defended the UCC, while Muslim leaders contended that it would promote disharmony. However, Alladi was of the view that it would create amity amongst the people and also a sense of unity. Munshi while supporting the UCC also said that it is important to uphold the social credentials of the nation.
While supporting Alladi’s views, during Constituent Assembly debates, Ambedkar said that, “There was nothing new about the Uniform Civil Code. There already existed a common civil code in the country except for the areas of marriage, inheritance — which are the main targets for the Uniform Civil Code in the Draft Constitution.”
However, Ambedkar also felt that the UCC should be optional.
Crucially Ambedkar argued that the absence of a UCC would hinder the government’s attempts at social reforms.
In Volume 7 of the CAD (7.65.178) he said that, “I personally do not understand why religion should be given this vast, expansive jurisdiction so as to cover the whole of life and to prevent the legislature from encroaching upon that field. After all, what are we having this liberty for? We are having this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is so full of inequities, so full of inequalities, discriminations and other things, which conflict with our fundamental rights. It is, therefore, quite impossible for anybody to conceive that the personal law shall be excluded from the jurisdiction of the State.”
The Hindu Code Bill
Ambedkar’s vision of the UCC can also be seen in his demand for the Hindu Code Bill. The Hindu Code Bill was intended to provide a civil code in place of the body of Hindu personal law, which had been amended only to a limited extent by the British authorities. Many leaders, mostly upper class Hindus, vehemently opposed the Bill. Parliament stalled the draft of the Bill, seeking equality in marriage, inheritance etc., as a result of which Ambedkar resigned from the Cabinet in 1951.
Summing up, Ambedkar was always a staunch supporter of the UCC. Despite the strong resistance in the assembly, Ambedkar was quite firm in his views.
UCC was earlier imbibed in Article 35 however it was renumbered to Article 44 of the Constitution. Ambedkar believed that the wide jurisdiction given to religion would prevent the legislature from bringing about social justice.
For this reason, civil code was given the status under DPSP and hence it could not be made enforceable. Moreover, the idea of UCC can also be seen in the Hindu Code Bill presented by Ambedkar. However, it is high time we debate and explore the options for UCC as suggested by the Chief Justice to fulfil Ambedkar’s dream.
Kumar is law and policy expert and Singh is Assistant Professor of Law, Delhi University. Views expressed are personal