Feminism and Multicultural Dilemmas in India: Revisiting the Shah Bano Case
22 Pages Posted: 29 Feb 2008 Last revised: 10 Jun 2011
Date Written: 2004
Debates in India following on from the Shah Bano case highlight the extent to which gender equality may be compromised by yielding to the dominant voices within a particular religion or cultural tradition. As the Indian Supreme Court noted in Danial Latifi & Anr v Union of India, the pursuit of gender justice raises questions of a universal magnitude. Responding to those questions requires an appeal to norms that claim a universal legitimacy. Liberal feminist demands for a uniform civil code, however, have pitted feminist movements against proponents of minority rights and claims for greater autonomy for minority groups. Against the background of growing communal tensions, many feminists have argued for more complex strategies - strategies that encompass the diversity of women's lives and create a sense of belonging amongst women with diverse religious-cultural affiliations. Liberal theories of rights that abstract from the concrete realities of women's daily lives have not always addressed the institutions and procedures necessary to build that sense of belonging. This article examines the contribution made by discourse ethics theorists to debates on models of multicultural arrangements. It argues that deliberative models of democracy recognize the need for 'difference-sensitive' processes of inclusion, potentially assisting feminism in resolving the apparent conflict between the politics of multiculturalism and the pursuit of gender equality.
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