Flavia Agnes

From Shahbano to Kausar Bano – Contextualizing the ‘Muslim Woman’ within a Communalized Polity

The paper attempts to weave together two significant and seemingly isolated incidents in Indian history – the Supreme Court verdict in the Shahbano case in 1985 and the controversy that followed, and the more recent communal carnage and sexual violence that was unleashed upon Muslim women in Gujarat. Though apparently isolated, both these incidents bring to the
center stage the subaltern Muslim woman, within a communally vitiated political arena. While marking the period of the rising wave of Hindu fundamentalism in the country, the Shahbano stands at one end of the spectrum and Kausar Bano at the other. Within the confines of an identity that is both fixed and rigid at one end, and constantly shifting at the other, how does a Muslim woman negotiate the state structures and community dictates? What are the contradictory pulls of culture, religion, law, and politics that play upon her life and how does she position herself within these contradictory pulls? More importantly, why does she enter the political arena always as a victim? Are there no moments of defiance and resistance? Who have been her allies and adversaries in these struggles? What have been her gains and losses? How do the proponents of a Uniform Civil Code view her and how does she relate to this demand? These are important questions that have haunted some of us within the Indian feminist movement. The paper attempts to address these concerns.

Flavia Agnes is a lawyer at the Bombay High Court and founder of Majlis, a legal and cultural resource center in Mumbai, India. Flavia Agnes is a relentless advocate of gender equality through the law and a staunch critic of the Uniform Civil Code. Flavia appeared before the Sri Krishna Commission inquiry into the 1992 riots in the Indian cities of Mumbai and Berhampada. She has written and published extensively, including in the journals Subaltern Studies, Economic and Political Weekly, and Manushi on
the themes of minorities and the law, feminist jurisprudence, gender and law, and law in the context of women’s movements. She is the author of the book, Law and Gender Inequality: The Politics of Women’s Rights in India, published by the Oxford University Press (1999).

This lecture is co-sponsored by the Global Legal Studies Center under its speaker series on “Role of Law in Developing and Transitional Countries” with support from the Division of International Studies, the International Institute, and Global Studies.