The civil code of India in Uttarakhand is aimed at unmarried couples living together

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NEW DELHI – Looking to move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend? If you are in the Indian state of Uttarakhand, you must register your relationship with the authorities according to a new law – or face up to six months in prison and a $300 fine.

The rules for unmarried, cohabiting partners, known as “live-in couples” in India, are part of Uttarakhand state’s new Uniform Civil Code, which has been a long-standing campaign promise. time for the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). ).

The BJP and its political allies have argued for decades that India needs to replace the various religious laws governing marriage and inheritance – especially for Muslims – with a single national code. This week, the party began a campaign to gradually review those laws state by state. At least two other BJP-led states have begun the process of passing similar legislation.

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Uttarakhand, where the Beatles once meditated and practiced yoga in the 1960s, was the first Indian state to do so, sparking intense debate in India while critics warns that the new measure means state intrusion on individual freedom and privacy.

While many Indians, including opponents of the ruling party, agree that a progressive new legal code is needed to bring about equality and review complex laws religious and customary in the country, many were surprised to find strict rules governing live-in couples. within the 740 page law of Uttarakhand.

The new law will create a registrar’s office that will issue certificates for cohabiting couples who must report the start and end of their relationship. Under these rules, the registrar can call couples to seek more information before issuing a certificate and even reject their applications.

Neighbors can also report live-in couples who they suspect do not have the necessary credentials. If any of the applicants are found to be under 21, the registrar will contact their parents through local police.

Experts and activists have been uncertain about the enforcement aspects of the new law, such as stiff penalties for revealing false information and not submitting within 30 days of receiving it. notice from the registrar, saying that this goes against the positive spirit of the legislation. They are also concerned about neighbors engaging in more surveillance and “snitching”.

The new code remains silent on the issue of live-in relationships that are not between men and women.

Many in India were particularly opposed to the mandatory registration requirement for cohabiting couples and pointed out that registration for married couples remains voluntary. Bengaluru-based independent researcher Mary E. John argued that the legislation was meant to encourage people to invade other people’s privacy and make out “deviants”. from those who choose to live in relationships rather than marry as usual. Many unmarried couples have difficulty renting apartments.

“The idea that people in society can police each other is appalling. Women are the first to be affected,” John said. “Far from offering more freedom, this UCC will lead to more scrutiny. “

The rules specifically exclude live-in relationships in which one of the partners misrepresents their identity, which critics claim is a clear reference to the nationalist obsession Hindu so-called “love jihad,” of Muslim men seducing Hindu women with the goal of converting them. .

The universal code has been a key issue on the BJP’s agenda, as well as scrapping the special constitutional status of Muslim Kashmir and building A Hindu temple on the remains of a destroyed mosque in Ayodhya. A Hindu nationalist sees it as a pushback against privileges extended to minorities, especially Muslims, under the Indian constitution.

Supporters of the code say it outlaws polygamy, protects women from men who conceal their marital status or attempt to forcibly convert them and protects the inheritance rights of children born to – out of wedlock. But Muslims insist that there is sectarian bias, noting that although many of their practices are targeted, native tribes are free because of preserving their traditions.

On Tuesday, with national elections just months away, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami announced the code at the Uttarakhand assembly amid loud chants of “Jai Shri Ram,” or victory to Lord Ram, raised by another . BJP lawmakers.

“It is a source of pride for us that Uttarakhand is the first state to implement the Uniform Civil Code,” Dhami wrote in a statement. X post. “This is not just a coincidence but a golden opportunity for the state to show the rest of the country the way towards equality and uniformity.

But the living side of the code also received its share of ridicule. In the broadsheet of the Times of India, a cartoon showed a bureaucrat sitting in bed with a couple asking them to “do biometrics first, biology later”. Some Indian users on X, formerly known as Twitter, wondered how the law would affect the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a former prime minister of India and founding president of its ‘ BJP who was in a live-in relationship with a married woman for a large part. of his public life.

While newspaper editors weighed their words in warning against the law’s “potential to encourage surveillance,” one veterans columnist and talk show host went so far as to drawing parallels with Afghanistan under the Taliban in a piece published online.

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