No Way Out: The Dual Subordination of Muslim Women in Indian Legal Culture
Northeastern University - School of Law
Self-Determination and Women's Rights in Muslim Societies, Chitra Raghavan, James P. Levine, eds., Brandeis University Press, 2012
Northeastern University School of Law Research Paper No. 129-2013
Muslims in India account for 12% (101.59 million) of the population and are India’s largest religious minority. Despite some progress for a more inclusive state, the large Muslim minority in India continues to be trapped between two legal paradigms that offer little access to justice. This book chapter focuses on Muslim women in particular who face the burden of what I call dual subordination: the simultaneous subordination by two legal paradigms. The first of the legal paradigms is the state courts rooted in a more formal secular legal regime. The second are the religious legal mechanisms enacted at the local level. Often the secular and the religious rely on each other to reinforce gender norms. Muslim women experience this reality especially with regard to assertions of sexual rights. This is an important paradox to understand: one that teaches us the instability of viewing secularism as a “way out” of religious personal law to advance women’s rights.
Section II of the chapter begins with an explanation of relevant legal frameworks including the role of Islamic law in India and the international human rights framework for sexual rights. Section III locates the sexual rights of Muslim women within domestic and secular discourse by a presentation and analysis of the various ways in which scholars have located rights within Islam. This analysis acknowledges that activism in the arena of women’s rights is not necessarily a site of resistance for a broader movement for gender identity and gender expression. Rather, the construction of women’s rights has often “encoded” the definition of “woman” premised on a common experience of subordination. Finally, a conversation about Muslim rights in India cannot ignore a fundamentally violent and anti-Muslim movement that remains authoritative in legal, policy, social, and cultural realms.
Accepted Paper Series
Date posted: February 20, 2013 ; Last revised: February 22, 2013
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