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Thursday, October 24, 2019


The family plot


The failure to enact a uniform civil code is a blot on India’s family law landscape
R. VENKATARAMAN | Issue Dated: May 13, 2007
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The family plot Do families need a law for regulation? Are not marriage, divorce, adoption, live-in relationships and all that goes with “family”, personal affairs, to be left alone without State intervention in the form of legislation? The answer is: Law is a tool for societal regulation. For, tensions in families lead to social unrest. And even in the “pre-law societies”, matters of marriages (even without their legally codified present forms) were regulated by practices and customs. Marriages in ancient India were essentially regulated by practices and customs amongst different sects and subsects, even amongst the tribal society. The onset of the British Raj saw law getting divided into criminal and civil legislations and under the second part a “reformed” version of Hindu law and other regulations for different other communities took a shape.

Family law is the name given to the branch of civil law that determines “legal relationships” among family members – husbands, wives, parents, children and others. Among Hindus, there are two main schools, the Mitakshara and the Dayabaga, besides Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Parsis and other innumerable divisions in Indian society today. Disputes mainly relate to marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption, inheritance, property rights, child custody, domestic violence, marital rape, juvenile dependency and delinquency, marital property rights, support obligations, and paternity.

These personal relationships are governed by laws enacted by the State, generally called the “Family Law” and vary from state to state and religion, ethnic groups and sects and subsects within a religion. India, the world’s largest democracy, is yet to bring in a uniform civil code although its Constitution mandates it. Hence in recent decades a number of critical issues in the areas of family justice and rights often result in social tensions between different communities, challenging the stability of the Indian society and its egalitarian aspirations. A uniform civil code is nothing but equality of women and men and nothing to do with any religious practice. As former union law minister Ram Jethmalani said “It is not that the unified law would force a Muslim to perform saptapadi and a Hindu to under to rituals of nikaah. It is uniform codification of law relating to divorce, maintenance, right over custody of children and inheritance of properties and marital property rights”.

The Constitution has stated under the chapter “Directive Principles of State Policy” that “The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India”. Will it?
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017