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Open Access Thesis

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Rachel Sturman


In 1985, Mohd. Ahmad Khan v. Shah Bano Begum, known commonly as the Shah Bano Case, became a flashpoint for Indian democracy. The Shah Bano case revolved around the maintenance of a divorced woman, not the first of its kind by any means. A case that sparked major social and political upheaval during a broader period of political turmoil, the Shah Bano case has long been interpreted as an expression of the crisis and contradictions between the democratic rights of women as citizens and the democratic rights of Muslims as a religious minority in the Indian nation-state. In the immediate aftermath of the case, critical feminist and post-colonial scholarship grappled with the dilemmas it involved, but to some extent remained caught up in those dilemmas. This thesis builds upon the important work of these and later scholars, but it also draws new attention to the specific role of the English-language public sphere in shaping the terms of debate that surrounded the case in the 1980s. This paper argues against the binary understanding of the landmark Shah Bano Case as either a failure or success of Indian secularism. I argue that the case and its aftermath demonstrate the continual nature of Indian secularism and democratic practice, especially laden in the post-Emergency era.

Available for download on Saturday, May 18, 2024