Christian Women in India Lack Inheritance Rights. Could Hindu Nationalists Help?

The Uniform Civil Code seeks “one nation, one law” to govern citizens’ personal lives, but religious minorities fear hidden costs.

In February, the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand passed a Uniform Civil Code (UCC), which aims to implement a common set of rules governing crucial aspects of life, including marriage, divorce, inheritance, and adoption.

This code would supplant existing personal laws that religious groups in India currently ascribe to. Personal laws cover family-related matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody, adoption, property rights, and inheritance.

If the ruling Hindu-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has its way, a UCC will eventually be implemented across all of India. (At present, Goa is the only other state with a UCC, derived from the Portuguese-era Civil Code of 1867.)

The BJP’s push to implement a national UCC may bring relief for Christians in India, especially in terms of women’s inheritance rights. Under existing personal laws, Christian mothers cannot inherit their deceased children’s property. The UCC proposes to eliminate discriminatory provisions that favor male inheritance, potentially leading to more equitable inheritance rights for Christian women.

But few of India’s religious minorities trust the BJP, whose policies have often been more harmful than helpful to Christian communities. In Assam, Christian leaders protested the passing of a bill banning “magical healing” as it unfairly impacted their custom of praying for the sick. Ministries including World Vision and the Evangelical Fellowship of India recently lost government authorization to collect foreign donations. Nine states now have anti-conversion laws in place, and believers have borne the brunt of religious unrest in these areas as a result.

As this year’s general elections seem likely …

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