Competing Model–Nikahnamas: Muslim Women’s Spaces within the Legal Landscape in Lucknow1
This paper delineates the growing women’s spaces within the legally pluralistic landscape of postcolonial India. Based on empirical data gathered in the city of Lucknow, Northern India, it explores the ways in which (i) Muslim women’s activists seek to carve out space for the creation of gender-just laws within a religious framework, and (ii) how within these women’s legal spaces, orthodox demarcations between secular and religious practice and legal authority become blurred. At the centre of my analysis are two women-friendly versions of the nikahnama (marriage contract), which stipulate conjugal rights and duties as well as conditions of divorce and financial support. This paper will contextualise and analyse these counter-hegemonic voices that address matrimonial rights - brought forth by two ideologically different Muslim women’s organisations in Lucknow. In so doing, this paper challenges simplified modernist accounts that depict secular conceptions of state law as incompatible with non-state religious law and norms. Conversely, this paper will demonstrate that current attempts by Muslim women’s rights activists to formulate gender-justice within the domestic sphere in fact, contribute to an emerging legal landscape of interlegality (Santos 1987/2002) - a field characterised by legal entanglements rather than parallel systems of law and morals.
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