Personal Laws in India: The Activisms of Muslim Women's Organizations

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“Indian Secularism” is understood as the State’s acceptance of different religions and their practices. Consequently, the Constitution allows for Personal Laws that empower religious authorities to enforce religious laws on personal matters. However, legislators also approved a directive to establish a Uniform Civil Code (UCC) applicable to all citizens. Of the three personal law systems, Hindu, Muslim and Christian Personal Laws, the Muslim Personal Law (MPL) has received the most scrutiny. Historically, the “Muslim woman” has been seen as a passive victim. My paper explores how Muslim women, as organizers and activists are active participants in the UCC debate today. I contrast how two Muslim Women’s Organizations, the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan and Awaaz-e-Niswaan approach this issue. The organizations are structured such that agency is located in the Muslim woman. Their work through “women’s courts” fragment religious and state authorities. They differ in their vision for the UCC. The BMMA demands a gender-just, reinterpreted, codified MPL system. In contrast, AEN argues against having a MPL. Tracing this difference to a fundamental difference in their interpretation of secularism, I argue that by embodying these varying ideals of secularism, the activisms of AEN and the BMMA are able to lead the UCC discourse, hitherto appropriated by political and religious entities, to new directions.


honors thesis; awarded honors




Varghese, Arpita (2015). Personal Laws in India: The Activisms of Muslim Women's Organizations. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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