South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - The Pre-History of Shah Bano: Personal Law and the Muslim Citizen in Post-Independence India

Saturday, July 7
10:20 AM - 11:50 AM
Location: Tamarind, New Building

The analysis of personal law regimes post-independence has tended to excessively focus on particular legislation and landmark cases such as the Hindu Code Bill debates in the 1950s or the Shah Bano case and the Muslim Women’s Act in 1986 as watershed moments. Such a focus produces an incomplete narrative of debates on family law, as it ignores the various unsuccessful and unpublicised attempts to alter family laws, which nonetheless contributed significantly to the political and social discourse. This paper analyses the various commissions and committees of the 1960s that were instituted to amend Muslim personal laws in order to explain how ‘unsuccessful’ attempts to spark legislative change were, in fact, transformative. These committees functioned as the buffer-zones for absorbing civil society initiatives and translating activism into legal language, but often these reports became evidence of aborted attempts at codification. Such debates on family law, however, could not be contained within the institutional arena alone as the 1970s witnessed the rise of civil society movements highlighting the centrality of personal law to democratic movements and politics alike.  


In the recent judgment on triple-talaq, the Supreme Court has passed on the question of protection of personal laws as fundamental rights to the legislature, which has yet again passed it onto the 21st Law Commission for a ‘comprehensive study’. State institutions, therefore, continue to use the rhetoric of the reformative potential of law to encourage codification of religious practices in order to access and govern the domestic sphere or the family.

Aishwarya Pandit

Jindal Global Law School, India

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