Nation and Family: Personal Law, Cultural Pluralism, and Gendered Citizenship in India

BOOK: Nation and Family: Personal Law, Cultural Pluralism, and Gendered Citizenship in India
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Stanford University Press

Stanford, California

©2014 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of Stanford University Press.

Printed in the United States of America on acid-free, archival-quality paper

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data has been requested.

ISBN 978-0-8047-8878-6

ISBN 978-0-8047-9090-1 (electronic)

Typeset by Westchester Book Services in Adobe Garamond Pro Regular


Personal Law, Cultural Pluralism, and Gendered Citizenship in India

Narendra Subramanian

Stanford University Press

Stanford, California

For my parents

K. S. Subramanian and V. Vasanthi Devi

who initially drew my attention to family law


Tables and Figures



1. Indian Personal Law: Toward a Comparative Theoretical Perspective

2. Nationalism, Recognition, and Family Formation

3. Official Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Majoritarian Citizen Making: The Formation of the Postcolonial Policy Frame

4. Recasting the Normative National Family: Changes in Hindu Law and Commonly Applicable Matrimonial Laws Since the 1960s

5. Minority Accommodation, Cultural Mobilization, and Legal Practice: The Experiences of Muslim Law and Christian Law

6. Nationalism, Multiculturalism, and Personal Law






1.1. Nature of Change in Personal Law Soon After Independence/Regime Change

1.2. Effects of Changes in Personal Law Since the 1970s on Women’s Rights and Individual Autonomy

2.1. Influences on Multiculturalism and Personal Law

2.2. Features of Community Discourses and State-Society Relations That Influence One Another

2.3. Regime Type and Change in Personal Law

2.4. Policy Regarding Minority Personal Law

2.5. Nationalist Discourses and Personal Law


2.1. Discourses of Community, State-Society Relations, and Personal Law


All India Catholic Union
All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
All India Democratic Women’s Association
All India Muslim Personal Law Board
All India Women’s Conference
Bharatiya Janata Party
Bahujan Samaj Party
Catholic Bishops Conference of India
Church of North India
Communist Party of India-Marxist
Cr. P. C.
Criminal Procedure Code
Committee on the Status of Women in India
Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam
Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act
Darul Uloom Deoband
Darul Uloom Manzar-e-Islam
Evangelical Fellowship of India
Front de Libération Nationale
Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act
Hindu Code Bill
Hindu Marriage Act
Hindu Married Women’s Right to Separate Residence and Maintenance Act
Hindu Succession Act
Indian Christian Marriage Act
Indian Divorce Act
Indian Succession Act
Joint Women’s Program
Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act
Mussulman Wakf Validating Act
National Council of Churches of India
National Commission for Women
National Council of Women in India
National Federation of Indian Women
Paattaali Makkal Katchi
Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act
Rashtriya Janata Dal
Shariat Act
Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) Application Act
Special Marriage Act
Samajwadi Party
Uniform Civil Code
United Progressive Alliance
Women’s Indian Association
Young Women’s Christian Association


My earlier research examined certain ways in which public actors sought to express cultural specificity and reduce socioeconomic inequality in India. While continuing to address these questions, this book explores some themes in much greater detail—especially the interactions of states, nationalisms, and legal institutions with gendered inequalities, and the interplay of religious discourses and secularist policy frames. This project took over a decade of research, reflection, and writing, in the course of which I accumulated many debts, intellectual, professional, and personal, not all of which I am in a position to mention here.

My work on this book was made possible by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the
Fonds pour la Formation de Chercheurs et l’Aide à la Recherche
, the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute, and the McGill Faculty of Graduate Studies, in addition to a Canada in the World Research Grant jointly offered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the International Development Research Centre.

I made several research trips to India between 2000 and 2007, during which I gathered valuable documents at the Indian Law Institute Library, the Nehru Memorial Library, the Supreme Court Judges Library, the Centre for
Women’s Development Studies Library, the Census of India Library, the offices of the Census Commissioner, the Joint Women’s Programme, the All India Democratic Women’s Association, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Church of North India, the Lawyers Collective, and the Human Rights Law Network in Delhi; the Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama and the Firangi Mahal in Lucknow; the Imarat-e-Shariah in Phulwari Sharif, Bihar; and the family court, the high court, the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Library, and the All India Democratic Women’s Association’s office in Chennai. Moreover, I was able to access materials from the offices and personal collections of Rajeev Dhavan, Kirti Singh, Bina Agarwal, and Gargi Chakravartty in Delhi, and Justice K. Chandru, Sudha Ramalingam, V. Suresh, Geetha Ramaseshan, K. Shantakumari, Sheila Jayaprakash, P. V. S. Giridhar, and D. Sharifa in Chennai. This was supplemented by materials that I gathered at and through the McGill University libraries, the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and

Many individuals made me more comfortable during my research trips to India, helped me access people and materials crucial for my research, and shared with me their thoughts and experiences. My parents, K. S. Subramanian and V. Vasanthi Devi, offered me the hospitality of their homes in Chennai. My father also made arrangements for two of my stays in Delhi. My mother connected me to various people who aided my work. My late grandmother, Gomathi Ammal, also made my visits to Chennai more pleasant, as did Rani and Ravi. Dr. G. R. Sundar of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, L. Krishnan, Saurabh Khanna and his family, and Chanda made me at home in Delhi, as did Saleem Qidwai in Lucknow, the late Mr. Pradhan Jwala Prasad and his family in Patna, and Chandan and Vanita Nayak Mukherjee in both Thiruvananthapuram and Delhi. The following people put me in touch with various interviewees and helped me access crucial research materials: the late Vina Mazumdar, Geetha Ramaseshan, Rajeev Dhavan, Bader Sayeed, K. Shantakumari, P. V. S. Giridhar, Sheila Jayaprakash, S. S. Rajasekhar, Mythily Sivaraman, Mr. N. Gopalaswami (former secretary, Union Home Ministry), Dr. Tahir Mahmood, Kirti Singh, Dr. Qasim Rasool Ilyas, Jyotsna Chatterji, Maja Daruwala, Yoginder Sikand, Saleem Qidwai, Maulana Khalid Rashid, Maulana Anisurrahman Qasmi, Justice Shivaraj C. Patil,
Mr. P. S. Krishnan (former secretary, Union Welfare Ministry), Justice S. Muralidhar, Usha Ramanathan, and Bina Agarwal. In addition, the late Vina Mazumdar, Rajeev Dhavan, Dr. Tahir Mahmood, Jyotsna Chatterji, Justice S. Muralidhar, Bina Agarwal, Justice R.C. Lahoti, Justice S. Rajendra Babu, and Yusuf Hatim Muchhala were particularly forthcoming with valuable information. Bina Agarwal was kind enough to involve me marginally in her ongoing efforts to promote the extension of inheritance rights in agricultural land to Muslim women throughout India by bringing agricultural land under the purview of the Shariat Act.

Three senior scholars encouraged me to embark on this project at an early stage—Stanley Tambiah, the late Myron Weiner and Marc Galanter. I am grateful for the comments of various scholars on parts of the manuscript or on papers or presentations that discussed aspects of this project. They included two reviewers for Stanford University Press. as well as the reviewers of articles based on the project published in
Law and Social Inquiry, The Journal of Asian Studies
, and two edited volumes. Of the reviewers of the book manuscript, Yüksel Sezgin read the penultimate draft and later let me know that he had been a manuscript referee. The other reviewer read an earlier draft of all chapters except the Conclusion. Alfred Stepan commented on the drafts of various chapters as well as on my presentation at a workshop to which he invited me at Columbia University, and encouraged me to elaborate on certain ideas. Werner Menski and Sylvia Vatuk offered me valuable suggestions in response to a number of papers, as well as conference and seminar presentations.

I also benefited from the comments of Donald Horowitz, Marc Galanter, Ann Waltner, Wael Hallaq, Marie-Ève Reny, Yoginder Sikand, Mitra Sharafi, Gopika Solanki, John Bowen, Rupa Viswanath, Donald Davis Jr., Rina Verma Williams, David Gilmartin, Christopher Tomlins, Roger Karapin, Barbara Metcalf, Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Gérard Bouchard, and Minakshi Menon on papers that paved the way to the book, and of Sanjay Subrahmanyam, Srimati Basu, Mitra Sharafi, Marc Galanter, John Bowen, Muhammad Khalid Masud, Lawrence Cohen, K. Sivaramakrishnan, Josh Cohen, Clark Lombardi, Martin Lau, Rajeev Bhargava, Christophe Jaffrelot, Mrinal Satish, Gérard Bouchard, Hanna Lerner, Jean Cohen, Sally Merry, Lauren Benton, and Jan Michiel Otto on presentations based on this project at public lectures, conferences and workshops. Donald Horowitz, Mitra Sharafi, Marc Galanter, Jeff
Spinner-Halev, Ahmet Kuru, and Tamir Moustafa alerted me to references in the comparative literature. While I benefited considerably from the generous comments and suggestions I received from these scholars, I bear sole responsibility for the book’s claims and arguments, which do not coincide with their ideas in various respects.

Many colleagues provided me the opportunity to present my work on this project at academic and public venues, through which I gained much valuable feedback. Gerald Larson invited me to a workshop at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, Rajeev Bhargava organized a talk at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and Ashok Kotwal at the University of British Columbia. K. Sivaramakrishnan invited me to present aspects of this project twice, initially at Stanford University at a conference he organized with Akhil Gupta, and then at Yale University at a workshop that he put together with Gilles Tarabout and Daniela Berti. Along with conferring on me the honor of delivering one of the annual Neelan Tiruchelvam Memorial Lectures at Colombo, Tambirajah Ponnuthurai, Sithie Tiruchelvam and Radhika Coomaraswamy had me present my work at the International Centre for Ethnic Studies there. Besides, Tuli Banerjee arranged a talk at MIT, Martha Bailey at Queen’s University, Gary Jacobsohn and Gretchen Ritter at the University of Texas-Austin, Karine Bates at the Université de Montréal, Gérard Bouchard at Harvard University, John Bowen at the Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilizations–Aga Khan University, Mitra Sharafi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Alfred Stepan and Jean Cohen at Columbia University, and Priya Darshini Swamy at Leiden University College The Hague. In addition, I benefited from presenting aspects of my work on the project at three of the annual conferences on South Asia at Madison, Wisconsin, and at annual meetings of the Association for Asian Studies, the Law and Society Association, the American Sociological Association, and the Association for the Study of Nationalities.

BOOK: Nation and Family: Personal Law, Cultural Pluralism, and Gendered Citizenship in India
11.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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