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Tribal Groups in Northeast Fear Potential Impact of UCC

Over 220 Northeastern ethnic groups dread how their centuries-old customs may be impacted by the proposed Uniform Civil Code.

New Delhi: The proposed Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is raising major concerns among tribal groups in the Northeastern states. According to an India Today, report, such a Code – especially with a majority-centric approach – would infringe upon the Northeast’s longstanding customs and practices, which the Constitution safeguards.

The UCC, which was strongly pitched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing a gathering of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers in Bhopal last week, is a proposal in India that is aimed at replacing personal laws based on religions, customs, and traditions with one common law for everyone irrespective of religion, cast, creed, sexual orientation, and gender.

With more than 220 different ethnic groups living in the Northeast of the country, it is considered one of the most culturally diverse regions in the world. The protection of each tribe’s customary laws is guaranteed under the Constitution. However, there is apprehension that the proposed UCC may impact laws related to inheritance, marriage, and religious freedom in the Northeastern states, particularly Mizoram, Nagaland, and Meghalaya.

In a 2018 report by the Law Commission, It was highlighted that certain groups, such as the Coorg Christians, Khasias, and Jyentengs from the Khasia and Jaintia Hills in Assam, as well as Mundas and Oraons from Bihar and Orissa, follow ancient customary laws of succession, which are not expected to be taken into account in the proposed UCC.

The Law Commission also detailed how certain tribes in Meghalaya have a "matriarchate," where property is inherited by the youngest daughter, and the son-in-law comes to live with his wife's parents after marriage among the Garos. Certain tribal groups feel that it is highly probable that customs would not be respected in a UCC, says report.

“In Mizoram, implementing a uniform civil code may be difficult and could potentially lead to instability” stated Thangmawai, an MLA of the ruling party Mizo National Front (MNF), as quoted in the report.

According to Article 371G of the Constitution, no act of Parliament that affects the social or religious practices, Mizo customs and procedures, and ownership and transfer of land of the Mizo ethnic groups, may be applicable to Mizoram unless approved by the state Assembly.

“We passed a resolution opposing the UCC during the previous Assembly session in February” he added.

“The idea of imposing a single custom, language, or religion on the entire nation is simply impossible,” Robert Kharjahrin, an advocate and activist in Meghalaya, told India Today.

Meghalaya is a state that consists of three major tribes: the Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo. Each with its own distinct customs and ways of life pertaining to marriage, divorce, and various other matters such as adoption and inheritance.

"Even among ourselves, we are completely different, and the same applies to the Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo tribes. This has been a topic of discussion since the day we became a part of the Indian Union. It is also the reason why the hill tribes are included in the sixth schedule of the Indian Constitution, which grants them the authority to enact laws regarding customs, including marriage, divorce, inheritance, succession, and adoption," he was quoted as saying.

In the case of Nagaland, Article 371A ensures the protection of social and religious practices, customary laws, and ownership of land and resources in the state, they allow the people of Nagaland to maintain their distinct identity and way of life while being part of the Indian Union.

“The implementation of the Uniform Civil Code would contradict these special provisions and infringe upon the fundamental rights of the people in Nagaland” stated Amai Chingkhu, the general secretary of the Rising People party, was quoted as saying in the report.

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