Uttarakhand UCC faces criticism from Delhiites

- February 15, 2024
| By : Kushan Niyogi |

Couples in Delhi, with at least one partner from Uttarakhand, say the UCC Bill allows authorities and right-wing groups to infringe upon their privacy

LICENCE TO HARASS: Some Uttarakhand natives, who live in Delhi, say that couples living in the state often get harassed if they are seen in public together. (Photo: Getty)

The Uttarakhand Legislative Assembly’s decision to pass the Uniform Civil Code Bill on February 7 with an absolute majority has not gone down well with many people from the state living in the Capital. 

They are particularly irked by the clause related to live-in relationships. 

According to the Bill, partners from Uttarakhand residing together will now have to register with the Registrar of their locality with appropriate evidence proving their relationship. The said Registrar will have the power to summon others related to the cohabiting couple to verify their claims for a live-in. Any evidence that does not support their claims, can deem the relationship null and void. 

The Registrar will have the authority to send the information of the registered couple to the local police station’s officer-in-charge (OC), who will be empowered to initiate action against the couple if they are under the age of 21 and thus, inform their parents or guardian. 

The Bill also entails that citizens of Uttarakhand residing outside the state and in live-in relationships will have to register themselves in the state. Failure to register within a month of the live-in relationship’s consummation can attract a fine of up to Rs 25,000, or imprisonment of a maximum of six months, or both. 

Rahul Khanna (name changed), a 22-year-old journalist, was shaken when the bill was passed. 

“There is a reason why no young person returns to Uttarakhand. Here live-in relationships, or relationships out of wedlock, are perceived as taboo. We have grown up with such an outlook, where even if someone sees a couple in a public place, they will start threatening them with police action,” said Khanna, who is settled in Delhi. 

When Khanna came across the notification of the Bill, his first reaction was of confusion. After he went through a news article, which stated that all residents of Uttarakhand residing even outside the state would also have to register, he went into a state of panic. Hurriedly, he sent a message over to his close friends’ group, all of whom are based out of the state. His message read:

“Any resident(s) of Uttarakhand staying in a live-in relationship outside the territory of the state, may submit a statement of live-in relationship under sub section 1 of section 381 to the Registrar within whose jurisdiction such resident ordinarily resides.”

He stated that it is quite apparent that the bill has been introduced to harass couples in the state and more importantly, minority communities. 

“It’s just a way to harass couples. If a certain neighbour does not like a couple living in their locality, they can easily file a complaint. It’s a clear violation of one’s privacy and also the authority one has over their lives. It will only help the state government solidify its base among more conservative voters,” he said. 

Revika Dixit (name changed), 22, another journalist and Rahul’s partner, was perturbed from the moment the Bill was passed. 

She spent hours on the phone with her beau, attempting to discern any loophole to fight against the system. She had to register herself with the Registrar as well, despite being from Madhya Pradesh, a different state. 

“Is this the government’s way of telling me that I made a mistake falling in love with a person from Uttarakhand? Why should I travel to the state to register myself just because my boyfriend is from that state? I should not be bound by law to get into a social contract in another state when I am from MP,” she said. 

“There’s another provision in the Bill which dictates that the male partner will have to pay a certain amount in case of ‘desertion’. This does not make sense because when a couple decides to part ways, it is done with absolute consent. Why should the male partner furnish a certain amount? It is not a divorce,” she added. 

She feared increase in vigilantism and hostility towards couples, and a precedent for a nationwide UCC. 

“This has given a free pass to right-wing outfits to harass young couples not just on Valentine’s Day but throughout the year. The passage of the Bill will set a worrying precedent if it is given the go-ahead by the apex court. Other BJP-ruled states may start introducing this sham of a civil code, and it might just be my state.”

There is also a worry that it will be used to harass all kinds of couples within the state and even outside. 

Shreh Gupt (name changed), 22, a software engineer working in Gurgaon and hailing from Uttarakhand, illustrated his concerns. 

“I would be surprised if anyone registers because I, for one, will not. I am not sure as to why they even introduced it in the first place. However, if this legislation becomes a law, then it will be abused by anybody who doesn’t like the concept of couples outside of wedlock,” he said. 

Shreh’s partner is a resident of Pune. 

Amit Rawat, 26, a photographer working in Delhi but a permanent resident of Uttarakhand, who does not have a partner at present, illustrated concerns regarding privacy rights of an individual. 

“Right to privacy was always a myth in this country but now the violation of privacy has been given a legal stamp.”

He said that couples without the support of families will suffer the most.  

“Anybody who has supportive parents, will not hesitate to register. It will be a problem for those who are not supported by their families, especially inter-faith and inter-caste couples,” he said. 

Satyendra Negi (name changed), 22, another software engineer from Gurgaon hailing from Uttarakhand’s Haridwar, highlighted how these rules cannot be applied throughout the country. 

“There is no way for it (UCC) to be implemented across the board, especially in cities like Delhi, Hyderabad, and Gurgaon, since almost every other couple live together there. It will mean bad business for each state. They could only pull it off in Uttarakhand because not many young couples outside wedlock reside together there,” he said. 

Anoop Baranwal, a Supreme Court and Allahabad High Court lawyer, had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against the formation of State UCC councils in the Supreme Court (SC) in January, 2023. 

The apex body had then ruled it out stating that civil codes are a state subject and it does not have the authority to prohibit them from formulating a council. 

Baranwal told Patriot, “I believe that live-in relationships should be registered so that there is some form of legal recognition and the children who are born in it are given formal legal validation. However, the fact that they would imprison couples if they fail to register is a far cry if they are basing it on the same principles of social contract as marriage. The imprisonment of any couple will require the formation of a Council and as of now, there is no formation of one for marriage either. Registration should not be considered as a compulsion.”

He further added that having a UCC according to states will set a harmful precedent wherein each state will formulate laws according to the majority religion in its region. 

“Most family laws will be modified to set the tone according to the majority group. If a UCC is to be implemented, it should be done keeping all religions in mind like the French Civil Code, and implemented across the nation,” he said.

Vikram Singh, the former Director General of Police, Uttar Pradesh, admitted that the police will have a hard time engaging with ‘violators’ of the new code. 

“The police is spread too thin to directly handle these cases, especially with so many cyber-crimes and other more serious cases already waiting to be closed. The police can only take cognisance of complaints regarding live-in relationships if aggrieved parents and wronged partners directly file a complaint. In case of false complaints or police vigilantism, there are provisions in the departmental guidelines, and Constitution, which safeguard couples from harassment,” Singh told Patriot

Whether the live-in relationship diktat includes LGBTQIA+ partners has also come under scrutiny. 

“It shall be obligatory for partners to a live-in relationship within the State, whether they are residents of Uttarakhand or not, to submit a statement of live-in relationship under sub-section (1) of section 381 to the Registrar within whose jurisdiction they are so living.”

The term ‘partners’ refers to couples in the queer community as well. Sharif Rangnekar, an LGBTQIA+ activist and the organiser of Rainbow Lit Fest, divulged to Patriot that the ambiguous terminology has made it difficult for them to comprehend the extent of the Bill’s jurisdiction. 

“To have the Bill be levied on the queer community, the courts will first have to give us legal recognition. At the moment, we just have the right to cohabit. However, if it is applied to us then it will spell doom for all of us, especially the transgender community. Even otherwise, the legislation technically means that the government now has a free pass into your bedroom, and help others harass with impunity,” he said. 

Presently, Gujarat and Assam have also stated desire for the formation of a UCC council in their state.