Modi’s push for a single personal law in India sparks renewed debate and disquiet

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seriously pursuing a highly prominent campaign pledge to rule all Indian citizens under a single personal law, not concerning of demographic. In India, matters of marriage, divorce, adoption and legacy come under many religious and customary laws, only some of which are arranged. Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Parsis, possess their own rules, leading in a multiplex system of laws, some of which have been ridiculed as patriarchal and backward.

The proposed Uniform Civil Code (UCC) seeks to restore this with a single set of usual laws for everyone. In its nine years in power, Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has repeatedly pledged its Hindu nationalist base it would approve the UCC. The proposal has been in the BJP’s election manifesto since 1996. At a BJP event in Madhya Pradesh on June 29, Mr Modi said the nation should not have different laws for different groups of its people. Since mid-June, India’s Law Commission, which suggests the government on legal change and is putting together a report on the UCC, has been taking public feedback on the new code.

It has collected more than 1.9 million replies, say Indian media reports. The BJP-ruled state of Uttarakhand, meanwhile, said last week it had made a draft of a UCC Bill for the state, but did not unfold its contents. The draft could serve as a template for the national government, according to reports. These fresh moves have revived the discussion over the UCC’s practicality and whether it will result in a dilution of local customs and traditions in the multi-faith and diverse nation of 1.4 billion people.

They have also asked questions on whether Mr Modi will enforce the UCC ahead of national elections expected by May 2024, or keep it on the cards to motivate voters as part of a campaign plan to save his third term in power. Laws on adoption showcase the problems involved. Muslim, Christian and Parsi personal laws do not understand adoption, unlike the Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act. And the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000 allows adoption irrespective of religion. This is one of many differences among communities.