This Article argues that, in order for Muslim women to be fully emancipated from an unjust and discriminatory family law, their unique position and experience at the intersection of gender discrimination and religious discrimination must be taken into account. Proposals for reform that fail to reconcile communitarian religious loyalty and the importance of Muslim-Indian identity with individual gender rights will hold little appeal for the majority of Muslims. This Article argues that Muslim Personal Law has become so interwoven with significance for Muslim identity that dismantling the law or even reforming it constitutes a threat to this identity. This is true regardless of the fact that the actual impact of the formal law on the everyday lives of Muslims may be minor.
This article argues that in order to emancipate Indian-Muslim women from an outdated family legal code, their position at the intersection of gender and a minority religion must be taken seriously. Proposals for reform that have been suggested by Western liberal, secular feminists that ignore the importance of women's religious affiliation fail to do this. Moreover, by making assumptions about the strength of secularism in India, the willingness of the state to enact legal reforms driven by gender concerns, and by failing to acknowledge the limits of formal rights alone in changing norms, these scholars do not account for the political difficulties of enacting a Uniform Civil Code. On the other hand, Muslim traditionalists discount the experience of women as a subordinated group. Their reform proposals suggesting better enforcement undervalue the importance of formal laws. Both, these reform agendas are unattractive to a majority of Muslim women because they fail to reconcile the intersectional and complex nature of Muslim women's existence. The article puts forth an alternative that combines internal reform of the Muslim Personal Law, calls for greater legal aid to women modeled on programs in other countries and suggests a renewed commitment by Indian secular feminists to a compulsory Uniform Civil Code that is drafted by a broad coalition of women's groups with minority women taking an active role.
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/cyra-choudhury/4/