Customary laws, constitutional provisions negate need for UCC, say NE parties

Customary laws, constitutional provisions negate need for UCC, say NE parties

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'Greater Tipraland' sparks fears, leaders say it's for NE tribals' progress.

Sujit Chakraborty

Kohima, July 10 (IANS) After Mizoram and Meghalaya, political parties including NDA allies -- Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) and Naga People’s Front (NPF) -- in Nagaland are opposing the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) as the customary laws and other constitutional protections exist in the region.

Except the BJP,  in the entire northeastern region most national parties -- the Congress, CPI-M, National People’s Party (the first national party from the northeastern region).and the state parties -- are strongly opposing the UCC.

There are many special provisions in the Indian Constitution under Articles 371 (A), 371 (B), 371 (C), 371 (G), 371 (H) and 244 to preserve the traditions, culture and the overall development of the tribals in many of the northeastern states.

Tribals according to the 2011 census constitute 60 per cent and above of the state’s population in four of the eight northeastern states -- Mizoram (94.4 per cent), Nagaland (86.5 per cent), Meghalaya (86.1 per cent) and Arunachal Pradesh (68.8 per cent) -- while a reasonable number of tribal population exists in the remaining four states , Tripura (31.8 per cent), Manipur (35.1 per cent), Sikkim (33.8 Per cent) and Assam (12.4 per cent).

The Rights and Risks Analysis Group (RRAG), a New Delhi based rights group, in its submission to the Law Commission of India stated that nothing has changed since the Law Commission’s Consultation Paper of 2018 in which it held that a “uniform civil code which is neither necessary nor desirable at this stage” and any other contrary findings shall raise questions about integrity, independence and impartiality of the Law Commission.

RRAG Director Suhas Chakma said  “The Uniform Civil Code shall require constitutional amendments, in particular, Article 13(3)(a) of the Constitution relating the status of “custom or usage having in the territory of India”, Article 371(a) of the Constitution of India providing guarantees for customary laws in Nagaland and Article 371(g) of the Constitution providing guarantees for customary laws in Mizoram.”

Article 44 of the Constitution relating to a UCC for citizens is a part of the Directive Principles of the State Policy and it cannot nullify or override the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 13 (3) (a) of the Constitution.

“If exemption is given to the North Eastern States, the question shall arise as to why the same exemptions must not be extended to the tribal areas under the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution of India and thereafter, to various other groups whose customs or usage are guaranteed under Article 13(3) (a) of the Constitution of India. Exemptions to various groups imply that it is no longer uniform that the government of India or the Law Commission seeks to achieve,” Chakma said.

Opposition to the UCC is getting louder in the northeast with the Church Leaders Committee in a letter to the Law Commission urging the government to rescind processing of the UCC.

In response to the public notice issued on June 14, 2023, the Mizoram Church Leader’s Committee (MKHC) as a stakeholder of the UCC, stated that Mizoram by virtue of the Memorandum of Settlement (Peace accord) is placed on the status that “Notwithstanding anything contained in the constitution, no act of Parliament in respect of: (a) Religion or social practises of the Mizo.(b) Mizo Customary Law or Procedure.(c) Administration of Civil and Criminal Justice involving decisions according to Mizo customary Law.(d) Ownership and transfer of Land shall apply to the State of Mizoram unless the Legislative Assembly of Mizoram by a resolution so decides.”

The apex body of the Naga tribes, Naga Hoho has strongly opposed the “imposition of UCC”.

The Naga Hoho said it strongly opposed the “imposition of UCC on the diverse communities of India, particularly on the Nagas”.

“We firmly believe that any attempt to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach would undermine the constitutional provisions, unique history, and indigenous culture and identity of the Nagas, as well as the principles of unity in diversity in the country,” a Naga Hoho leader said.

He said that Article 371 (A) of the Constitution recognizes the special status and rights of the Nagas.

The influential Naga body also said the article grants the Nagas rights to maintain the social, cultural, and religious practices and administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to customary law and ownership of land and its resources thereby ensuring their protection against any potential impingement.

This constitutional protection is essential in respecting the distinctiveness and autonomy of the Nagas, acknowledging their historical journey, and upholding their fundamental rights, the Naga body said.

The organisation said that the Nagas have a rich and diverse cultural heritage that has evolved over centuries.
“The traditional institutions, customary laws, norms and practices have played a vital role in maintaining social harmony and ensuring the well-being of the Naga communities.”

Imposing a Uniform Civil Code without taking into account the unique cultural and historical context of the Nagas would be tantamount to erasing their identity and diluting their cherished traditions, it added.

In Tripura, leading tribal based party Tipra Motha Party (TMP) led by former royal scion Pradyot Bikram Manikya Deb Barman said that the party would announce its stand after the draft of the UCC is published by the Government or the Law Commission.

“We always want customary law and traditions of the indigenous people not to be disturbed or affected by the UCC or any other law. Women empowerment is also our priority besides communal harmony among different communities,” Deb Barman told IANS.

Meanwhile, the ruling Mizo National Front (MNF), the Congress and the smaller parties including the Zoram Peoples Movement (ZPM), Mizoram People’s Conference (MPC) and other non-political organisations are strongly opposing the UCC. 

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