Uttarakhand proposes a Uniform Civil Code, aiming for equality across religions; Muslim leaders oppose the new bill

LUCKNOW/ NEW DELHI:

An Indian state ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party on Tuesday presented a bill on personal laws that will apply across religions, including banning polygamy and granting equal inheritance rights to sons and daughters.

The proposed bill in Uttarakhand, a northern state along the Himalayas, is likely to be used as template by several other states ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as part of a long-running pledge, despite opposition from some Muslim leaders.

“The Constitution inspires us to seek equality and harmony and the commitment to implement the Uniform Civil Code law will act as a bridge towards that,” Uttarakhand’s Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said on X social media before presenting the bill in the assembly amid an uproar by some opposition members.

The bill, reviewed by Reuters, also proposes to increase the legal age of marriage for girls to 21 years, guarantees equal rights to men and women on matters pertaining to divorce and shares in ancestral property, and offers full rights to children who were adopted, born out of wedlock or conceived through surrogate births.

 

A legal expert working on the UCC bill in Uttarakhand said in recent years the majority Hindu community tended to marry off daughters after they turned 18 but Islam’s Sharia laws do not restrict the marriage of girls who are minors.

Some tribal communities have been excluded from the new provisions in the bill, which is likely to be easily passed as the BJP enjoys a big majority in the state assembly.

Currently, India’s Hindus, Muslims, Christians and large tribal populations follow their own personal laws and customs, or an optional secular code, for marriage, divorce, adoption and inheritance.

Framing a national common law has been one of the three core promises of the BJP, which will be chasing a third straight term in general elections due by May. It has fulfilled the other two: building a fiercely contested grand Hindu temple, and removing the autonomy of the Muslim-majority region of Jammu and Kashmir.

Muslim theologians see the new bill as a threat to Islamic Sharia law and religious practices including polygamy.

“Modi’s government is determined to destroy diverse practices,” said Kamal Farooqui, a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. “UCC is just another proof that they are imposing a majoritarian agenda.”

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