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The man at the centre of Uniform Civil Code debate
George Iype in Kochi |
July 24, 2003 16:55 IST
Last Updated: July 24, 2003 17:08 IST
A day after plunging the entire country into an intense debate over whether we need a Uniform Civil Code, the man who started it all looked relaxed, even happy on Thursday.
It was while dealing with a petition filed by Father John Vallamattom, a Roman Catholic priest of the Kothamangalam diocese in Kerala, that the Supreme Court on Wednesday regretted that the country still does not have a Uniform Civil Code, an objective our lawmakers promised to work towards in the Constitution several years back.
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The court also held that there was no connection between religious and personal laws in a civilised society.
Father Vallamattom, who lived in Delhi for several years editing the South Asian Religious News and who founded a Catholic weekly called Indian Currents, says he petitioned the court in 1997 because the personal laws of the Christian community are "flawed, archaic and discriminatory."
"I was greatly upset by the way laws that were made by the British were imposed on the Christian community in India," Father Vallamattom, who now works in a church-run rehabilitation center for mentally retarded people in Thodupuzha near Kochi, told rediff.com.
"I am happy that such a great verdict has come from a petition I filed with the Supreme Court. The Church has complete faith in the judiciary of the country," he said.
He is not the only one who holds this view.
Church leaders agree that the personal laws that govern the Christians in the country -- the Christian Marriage Act of 1873, the Christian Divorce Act of 1869 and the Indian Succession Act of 1925 — are all outdated and out of
touch with the reality of modern times.
Christians have been demanding changes in these laws since 1958. In 1994, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India in consultation with 39 Christian groups submitted three draft bills -- the Christian Marriage Bill, 1994, the Indian Succession Amendment Bill, 1994 and the Christian Adoption and Maintenance Bill, 1994 -- to the government.
Father Vallamattom says he was infuriated when successive governments kept these bills in abeyance. He decided to do something about it in 1997.
In 2000, the ruling Atal Bihari Vajpayee government proposed a new comprehensive Christian Marriage Draft Bill, which was opposed by Christian groups because it did not contain their proposals.
Father Vallamattom said he was particularly peeved by the section 118 of the Indian Succession Act of 1925, which imposes restrictions only on Christians in the country. "As per this particular clause, if a Christian wants to donate his property for religious and charitable purposes, he must write his will 12 months before his death," he said.
"I found these legal hurdles hurting the sentiments and growth of the Christian community in the country. The Church has done so much for India, but the laws in the country continue to be flawed, antique and biased," Father Vallamattom said.
Another demand from various Church groups to the government has been the legislation of a Christian Adoption Act. This they say is necessary because an adopted child of Christian parents does not enjoy the same rights as an adopted child of Hindu parents under the existing laws.
The existing laws only provide for guardianship and do not bestow full legal rights of a heir on adopted children to Christians. The only law pertaining to adoption in India at present is the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, framed in 1956. It is applicable to Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains.
But Christians, Muslims and other minorities are controlled by the Guardianship and Wards Act of 1890.
Father Vallamattom says now that the court has spoken its mind on the matter, the government must hold consultations with Christian and Muslim communities as to what kind of a Uniform Civil Code it plans to implement.
"Just because that the court has asked for the implementation of a common law, the Church does not want to be affected by just any new law, that could also be prejudiced [to its interests]," he said.