Chapter 2 Religious Freedom, Legal Activism, and Muslim Personal Law in Contemporary India: A Sociological Exploration of Secularism

In: Religious Freedom: Social-Scientific Approaches

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This chapter focuses on the recent judicial activism in reforming Muslim Personal Law (mpl) in India questioning the relationship between religious freedom, citizenship rights, and secularism. India follows a regime of religion-specific personal law in matters of marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption, custody of children, succession, and inheritance of property. In recent years, a unique jurisdiction of the Indian appellate judiciary known as the Public Interest Litigation (pil) has been often evoked to question and reform religious practices, including personal laws and especially the mpl. In this chapter, two landmark pil cases — the Vishwa Lochan Madan case and the Muslim Women’s Quest for Equality (popularly known as the Triple Talaq case) — that subjected mpl to judicial scrutiny, are analyzed. The trajectory of these two discrepant cases foregrounds the multivalent nature of constitutional law and their efficacy in understanding the issue of secularism in India. It shows how the boundaries between the religious and secular, created and contested in the judicial sphere, have important consequences for our understanding of religious freedom of minorities and women’s rights in a multi-cultural, post-colonial nation-state.


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