Main menu


Delhi dates divorce and democracy books, but Nehru steals the show

T.Countries may value marriage, but democracies have historically favored divorce.

This provocative line in Cambridge University scholar Soumia Saxena’s new book captures state anxiety over divorce. Divorce and Democracy: A History of Personal Law in Post-Independence India.

There has never been a better time to publish a book about India’s religious personal laws and the minefield of ambiguity they bring. Hijab, triple talak, sabarimala issues and demands for a unified civil code have reinvigorated debates on religion, women and the nation in recent years. The last time this perfect storm occurred was in the 1980s Sharbano case and its setbacks.

At a sold-out book launch event at the India International Center (IIC) in Delhi on Friday, author Saxena said he can’t get it right when it comes to issues of Sharia and Shastra, the Koran and the Constitution.

“Personal law has been challenged by women, politicians and clerics. Some said it was not in line with the Constitution, while others questioned its connection to God,” she said. Told.

The popular notion that codifying religion into law makes it more rigid is irrelevant. It really opens up dialogue and controversy, says her book. Divorce jurisprudence serves as a gateway to the study of Indian democracy and feminism.

It’s like using an abortion lens to understand the United States.

Also read: An unlikely police chief — ex-DGP BL Vohra’s new book raises key questions about Indian policing

Discussing Religion or Rights with Indian Women

The book launch was followed by an extensive 90-minute panel discussion. Topics include divorce, personal law, the feminist movement, satieTriple Talak, Constituent Assembly Debates Sharia Courts, Hindu Nationalism, Bilkis Bano.

“The debate over personal law is supposed to be a matter of tradition and modernity. But at its core, it’s really about women’s issues,” said Professor Rukmini Sen of Ambedkar University.

A new book by Saumiya Saxena has been published by Cambridge University Press. Twitter/SaumyaSaxena_

The demand for a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is nothing new. Article 44 of the Directive Principles of the Indian Constitution states that the state shall strive towards her UCC when the country is ready. BR Ambedkar used to say that only a mad government would embark on it soon. Over the years, UCC advocates have packaged it as a gender justice project, but the women’s group itself has been ambivalent about it.

“The unanimous and repeated rejection of the UCC by contemporary feminist scholarship is a recognition of the importance of religion to identity and self,” Saxena, a member of the 21st Law Commission, wrote in her book. .

This rejection complicates the popular notion that religious law and individual liberty are an alternative. Indian women have long resisted the choice of religion and rights.

One result of this push and pull between states, courts, clergy and women’s groups is a phenomenon that Saxena calls “religious feminism” in her book.

“Muslim women were expected to choose one side or the other during the Shah Bano controversy,” said Professor Ambreen Agha of OP Jindal University. It was a crisis for the feminist movement.”

A similar crisis occurred during the triple talak debate, where Muslim women’s groups such as the Bharatiya Muslim Mahira Andolan (BMMA) and the Bebaak Collective disagreed. One campaigned for reform, while the other said there were too few such cases to criminalize.

In the 1990s, it was the Women’s Reservation Bill that divided the feminist movement over caste. And race has divided American feminist groups.

“It’s okay if the women’s movement doesn’t go in unison. It could leave some women behind,” Saxena said.

Also read: Indian liberals must decide: oppose UCC for BJP or stand for secular principles?

Nehru question

And finally, there is no publication or panel discussion on politics, religion or history in India without questioning the role of Jawaharlal Nehru.

Saumya Saxena briefly said it was wrong to say that the parliamentary government did not seek to intervene in Muslim personal laws. It said it was raised but canceled due to opposition from Zakir Hussein.

One of the audience asked why Hussein objected. Saxena replied that the cancellation was the result of a private closed-door conversation with Nehru at Hussein’s residence late one night.

The audience didn’t want to give up so easily. He then pointed to former parliamentary minister Salman Khurshid, who was sitting in the front row.

Salman Khurshid at book launch in Divorce and Democracy, IIC, Delhi | Twitter/salman7khurshid
Salman Khurshid at the book launch of Divorce and Democracy, IIC, Delhi | Twitter/salman7khurshid

“Ask Salman Khurshid what happened. Zakir Hussein was his grandfather,” he said. The room had a good laugh. Everyone looked at Kulshido as they expected.

The awkward Crucido looked left and right, puzzled. “I’ll have to wait for my book on that,” he said.