Legal reform

Goa's Civil Code has backing of BJP, but it's not truly Uniform

Marriage laws differ between communities. Crucially, Goa Family Law proves that the mere existence of a legal code does not guarantee equal social relations.

Goa's Portuguese-crafted Family Law has a strange set of backers. Five decades after the departure of the European colonists from the tiny coastal state, the law is being championed by Bharatiya Janata Party politicians who claim it is India's only uniform civil law, applicable to all citizens regardless of religious difference.

Under the current legal system, Indians of different religious groups are governed by so-called personal laws that regulate marriage, divorce, guardianship and succession.  But the BJP had in its election manifesto promised to implement a Uniform Civil Code, applicable to all citizens. Since 1997, the party has been holding up Goa’s Civil Code as a model to be implemented across the country.

“If we can have a Uniform Civil Code in Goa then what is the problem in introducing it countrywide?" BJP leader LK Advani said when he brought his Swarn Jayanthi Rath Yatra to the state that year. "The majority of the population in Goa is Christian and if there is no problem there, how can it create a problem elsewhere?”

The Goa Civil Code, or Family Law, is based on the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867. There have been subsequent amendments regarding the customs and "usages of Gentile Hindus" in 1880, marriage and divorce in 1910, and on Catholic marriages in 1946. All these periods, except 1910, reflect points in time when Portugal was deeply conservative.

It’s strange that these 19th-century colonial laws are consistently lauded, because they are far from equal, or even capable of coping with contemporary requirements.

To begin with, marriage laws differ for Catholics and people of other faiths, and this affects the laws governing Catholics after they marry. Divorce depends on what law people have been married under.  "There is no separation of the Church from the State yet," argued lawyer Albertina Almeida, a campaigner for women's rights. She points out that in the case of those who opt to solemnise their marriage in church, the Church can annul the marriage at the instance of one of the parties, as is laid down in church law.

In addition, the “customs and usages” of the Hindus of Goa are also recognised. “Limited” polygamy has been allowed to Hindus and bigamy has been recognised to have civil effects. Other inequalities – on issues of adoption and the rights of illegitimate children – are also allowed for in these laws. When it comes to taking an oath in court, differences on the basis of caste have been accepted.

To be sure, some provisions of the Goa Civil Code are revolutionary in the Indian context. Take, for instance, the Community Property Law, which guarantees – immediately upon betrothal – each spouse 50% of all assets owned and due to be inherited at the time of marriage. Not only does a woman own half the property of her husband, and vice versa, but each partner must take the spouse’s permission before disposing of any of those assets.

However, Shaila de Souza, who heads the Centre for Women's Studies at Goa University, said that these property rights often exist only on paper. "Very often, daughters get a certain amount of gold at the time of their marriage and are asked to sign off their rights to the family property," she said. "It is not common that daughters fight for their share of the parental property and if there are such cases invariably it will be because of an informed son-in-law who wishes to claim his share.”

Almedia also notes that the mere existence of a law does not bring about equality in social relations.

“We did a study to show that despite these seemingly equal laws, the issue of domestic violence is very prevalent," she said. "We had to demand and lobby to extend the Dowry Prohibition Act to Goa. Similarly there were murmurs that a domestic violence law is not required for Goa. But we kept emphasising that family laws, no matter how equitable, do not automatically translate into the absence of domestic violence."

So, how and why does the Goa Family Law continue to get such good press?

Crucially, there is also an influential section within Goa that sees a financial opportunity here. The supposed shared income between the spouses can result in lower taxes on their families, especially when one spouse is the major income earner. As the income in notionally divided between both spouses, tax incidence is reduced, sometime even halved. There's money to be made in presenting that the Goa civil code is uniform.

 
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Advice from an ex-robber on how to keep your home safe

Tips on a more hands-on approach of keeping your house secure.

Home, a space that is entirely ours, holds together our entire world. Where our children grow-up, parents grow old and we collect a lifetime of memories, home is a feeling as much as it’s a place. So, what do you do when your home is eyed by miscreants who prowl the neighbourhood night and day, plotting to break in? Here are a few pre-emptive measures you can take to make your home safe from burglars:

1. Get inside the mind of a burglar

Before I break the lock of a home, first I bolt the doors of the neighbouring homes. So that, even if someone hears some noise, they can’t come to help.

— Som Pashar, committed nearly 100 robberies.

Burglars study the neighbourhood to keep a check on the ins and outs of residents and target homes that can be easily accessed. Understanding how the mind of a burglar works might give insights that can be used to ward off such danger. For instance, burglars judge a house by its front doors. A house with a sturdy door, secured by an alarm system or an intimidating lock, doesn’t end up on the burglar’s target list. Upgrade the locks on your doors to the latest technology to leave a strong impression.

Here are the videos of 3 reformed robbers talking about their modus operandi and what discouraged them from robbing a house, to give you some ideas on reinforcing your home.

Play
Play
Play

2. Survey your house from inside out to scout out weaknesses

Whether it’s a dodgy back door, a misaligned window in your parent’s room or the easily accessible balcony of your kid’s room, identify signs of weakness in your home and fix them. Any sign of neglect can give burglars the idea that the house can be easily robbed because of lax internal security.

3. Think like Kevin McCallister from Home Alone

You don’t need to plant intricate booby traps like the ones in the Home Alone movies, but try to stay one step ahead of thieves. Keep your car keys on your bed-stand in the night so that you can activate the car alarm in case of unwanted visitors. When out on a vacation, convince the burglars that the house is not empty by using smart light bulbs that can be remotely controlled and switched on at night. Make sure that your newspapers don’t pile up in front of the main-door (a clear indication that the house is empty).

4. Protect your home from the outside

Collaborate with your neighbours to increase the lighting around your house and on the street – a well-lit neighbourhood makes it difficult for burglars to get-away, deterring them from targeting the area. Make sure that the police verification of your hired help is done and that he/she is trustworthy.

While many of us take home security for granted, it’s important to be proactive to eliminate even the slight chance of a robbery. As the above videos show, robbers come up with ingenious ways to break in to homes. So, take their advice and invest in a good set of locks to protect your doors. Godrej Locks offer a range of innovative locks that are un-pickable and un-duplicable. To secure your house, see here.

The article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Godrej Locks and not by the Scroll editorial team.