How not to Divorce Muslim Women in India

Five years ago, during an extended tea break in Cambridge’s architecturally underwhelming University Library, a grad school friend of mine observed that her research topic, the Uniform Civil Code in India, evoked mixed reaction in our otherwise ideologically streamlined friendship circle (left-liberal to far left, no surprises here). Most of us championed to keep personal laws based on religious scriptures. Though only of few of us were overtly religious, the constituent assembly’s dream that one day all Indians would be unified under a single juridical umbrella in family law matters, seemed naïve at best, and majoritarian at worst. For vast swathes of India’s past 70-years, the Uniform Civil Code has failed to pick up steam. When it did then mainly as a slogan for right-wing Hindu outlets in the late 80s, the types that tore down mosques and burnt Muslims in slums after tattooing religious symbols on their foreheads while barking "one nation, one law".

The Nehruvian intelligentsia detested such raw populism. Their children did, too. If we travel further back in time and eavesdrop on a similarly placed Indian student group 100 years ago discussing the merits of the Uniform Civil Code, there would have been a clearer consensus against its introduction. For these Indians a century ago, as for many Indian today, any country-wide implementation of a one-size-fits-all personal law solution meant a direct intervention into their religious traditions and practices. Before 1947, it also meant ceding control to the British colonial state.

"Hold your breath", quibbles the postcolonial theorist, "religious tradition has little to do with religion or tradition". History as a way of thinking chronologically about time, where events are neatly lined up on a linear scale, and religion as an organised form of social life are Western imports, shoved down Indian throats to secure the colonial state’s extractive rule over India ...

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