The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) Bill of Uttarakhand, introduced in the state’s Legislative Assembly on Tuesday, February 6, makes it compulsory for live-in relationships to be registered within one month of entering the relationship. The failure to do so can result in a jail term of up to three months and a fine of Rs 10,000.
The UCC Bill, which is the first of its kind in India, aims to establish uniform civil laws for all communities in the state in matters of marriage, divorce, adoption, and succession, doing away with all personal laws that vary according to religion. It is within this framework that the BJP-led Uttarakhand government includes live-in relationships, making their registration mandatory.
Apart from provisions related to live-in relationships, the Bill also bans polygamy and child marriages. It allows for marriages to be solemnised according to religious rites, customary ceremonies, and the like, but makes their registration under the Bill mandatory. In the case of property and succession, the Bill confers equal inheritance rights to men and women and does away with the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children. It says that irrespective of whether a couple is married or not, their children are all legitimate heirs when it comes to property rights.
With respect to divorce, the Bill gives women the right to seek divorce if the husband has been found guilty of rape or any other unnatural sexual offence. It also gives both men and women the right to file for a divorce in case of adultery, mental or physical cruelty, desertion, unsoundness of mind, etc.
Further, the Bill says that it will not be applicable to the members of any Scheduled Tribe (ST). All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) legislator Aminul Islam from Assam questioned the proposed universality of the Bill by citing this exemption.
Laying down the rules to register live-in relationships, the Bill says that couples who are in a live-in relationship within the state, whether or not they are residents of Uttarakhand, must submit a statement to the concerned Registrar. If the couple decides to part ways, they can terminate the relationship by filing a statement of termination. The Registrar is also given the power to inform the parents of the couple in case any one of them is below 21 years of age.
If any live-in couple does not get their relationship registered, the Registrar may send them a notice to do so, which must be adhered to within a month. If the couple still does not register the relationship, they can be punished with imprisonment for up to three months and a fine of Rs 10,000. The Bill further says that any child born out of a live-in relationship will be considered legitimate and that women in such relationships are entitled to claim maintenance.
The Uttarakhand Cabinet had already given its assent to the Bill on Sunday, and CM Pushkar Singh Dhami tabled the Bill on February 6, the second day of the ongoing four-day Special Session of the Assembly. It has now come under the scanner for its provisions on live-in relationships, with many calling it “intrusive” and “arbitrary”. The main point of criticism is that the Bill makes it mandatory for people to let the state know each time they move in or out of a relationship. This also becomes extremely taxing on LGBTQIA+ couples as well as polyamorous couples, or people who may be living together but are not romantic partners.
These provisions also risk outing live-in couples to moral policing as well as social isolation, especially in the case of couples from marginalised identities living in non-urban locations.
It was in 2022 that the Uttarakhand government formed a panel headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ranjana Desai to prepare a draft of the UCC. The other members of the panel included retired justice Pramod Kohli, social activist Manu Gaur, former Uttarakhand Chief Secretary Shatrughan Singh, and Vice Chancellor of Doon University, Surekha Dangwal.
If the Bill becomes an Act, Uttarakhand will be the first state in India to have a UCC.