Forging Identities: Gender, Communities, and the State

By Zoya Hasan | Go to book overview

Between Community and State:
the question of women's rights and
personal laws

Maitrayee Mukhopadhyay


Introduction

This paper is presented in three parts. In the first I discuss the process of codification and formulation of personal laws in the colonial period. The purpose of this section is to show how the colonial production of knowledge about family laws privileged Brahmanic scriptures and equated tradition with scripture. The implications for changes in social relations and for the understanding of what constitutes authentic cultural tradition is also discussed. In the second part I discuss the context in which the Muslim Women's (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill was enacted in 1986. It shows how debates about personal laws in post-colonial India are increasingly about community identities, with women and the family becoming emblematic of the "authentic" cultural traditions constituting these identities. In the final section I present data from fieldwork undertaken in 1991 to show the ways in which such assertions of identity have taken place at some cost to women's material interests.


The heritage

In contemporary India, personal laws have increasingly come to signify the "authentic" traditions of particular communities. Historical research, however, indicates that these 'authentic' traditions were produced through a process of codifying family laws during the colonial period. Along with other political and economic processes, this contributed to profound changes in social relations between men and women in the family, between communities, and between the State and the family.

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