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Uniform Civil Code of India Eassy

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A SPECIAL ISSUE ON INDIA

The Uniform Civil Code Debate in Indian Law: New Developments and Changing Agenda
By Werner Menski ∗

A. Introduction: What Happens if One Asks for the Moon? Postcolonial India’s modernist ambition to have a Uniform Civil Code, impressively written into Article 44 of the Indian Constitution of 1950 as a nonjusticiable Directive Principle of State Policy, concerns not just an Indian problem but a universal predicament for lawyers and legal systems. What is the relationship between personal status laws and general state-made laws? To what extent should the formal law allow for, or seek to restrain, the legal implications of religious and socio-cultural diversity? To what extent does a state, whether secular or not, actually have power and legitimacy to decree and enforce legal uniformity? There are many more agendas at play here than simply the central issue of legal authority, focused on the power of the law, or simply “religion” v. “law”, or “culture” v. “law”, as we are often still led to believe. I present here the recent developments in India’s law relating to the much-debated Uniform Civil Code agenda to illustrate that Indian law today increasingly turns its back on supposedly European or “Western” models, and has been developing its own country-specific and situation-sensitive methods of handling complex sociolegal issues. This may contain some important lessons for European lawyers, specifically in terms of managing cultural diversity through plurality-conscious legal intervention, rather than the traditional insistence on state-centric legal uniformity. The key lesson from this evidence is that personal status laws may well endure and survive the much-desired uniformity of legal reforms all over Asia and Africa, and probably elsewhere, too. The future of the world lies evidently not in simplistic


MA, PhD, Professor of

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