(Mis)Appropriated Liberty: Identity, Gender Justice, and Muslim Personal Law Reform in India

77 Pages Posted: 8 Mar 2007 Last revised: 30 Apr 2014

See all articles by Cyra Akila Choudhury

Cyra Akila Choudhury

Florida International University College of Law


This article argues that in order to emancipate Indian-Muslim women from an outdated family legal code, their position at the intersection of gender and a minority religion must be taken seriously. Proposals for reform that have been suggested by Western liberal, secular feminists that ignore the importance of women's religious affiliation fail to do this. Moreover, by making assumptions about the strength of secularism in India, the willingness of the state to enact legal reforms driven by gender concerns, and by failing to acknowledge the limits of formal rights alone in changing norms, these scholars do not account for the political difficulties of enacting a Uniform Civil Code. On the other hand, Muslim traditionalists discount the experience of women as a subordinated group. Their reform proposals suggesting better enforcement undervalue the importance of formal laws. Both, these reform agendas are unattractive to a majority of Muslim women because they fail to reconcile the intersectional and complex nature of Muslim women's existence. The article puts forth an alternative that combines internal reform of the Muslim Personal Law, calls for greater legal aid to women modeled on programs in other countries and suggests a renewed commitment by Indian secular feminists to a compulsory Uniform Civil Code that is drafted by a broad coalition of women's groups with minority women taking an active role.

Keywords: Women, India, Islam, Family Law, Gender

Suggested Citation

Choudhury, Cyra Akila, (Mis)Appropriated Liberty: Identity, Gender Justice, and Muslim Personal Law Reform in India. Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Vol. 17, p. 46, 2008, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=969020

Cyra Akila Choudhury (Contact Author)

Florida International University College of Law ( email )

11200 SW 8th St.
RDB Hall 1097
Miami, FL 33199
United States

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