Antinomies of Religious Freedom: Some Implications of the Debates on Triple Talaq in India

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Sudha SITHARAMAN, Pondicherry University, India
In India matters concerning family such as marriage, divorce, maintenance, inheritance, succession, adoption and guardianship are governed by personal laws, that arguably fit the dominant emphasis of contemporary Indian secularism, namely, the accommodation of religious diversity and guarantees cultural autonomy, particularly, the right to religious freedom, especially for minority religious communities. The paper is an attempt to unsettle the assumption — so ubiquitous in popular and academic circles — that religious freedom is easily recognized and understood, and that the only problem lies in its incomplete realization. The plea is not for an improved definition of religious freedom but to grasp the ways in which this seemingly obvious and neutral right has yielded mutually contradictory and often discriminatory results. Taking the case of unilateral divorce (triple talaq) that elicited several protracted episodes of contestation challenging the practice among women’s groups, legal entities, religious forces within Muslim communities, the mainstream media as well as the present government, requiring them to deploy arguments for religious freedom.The conundrum over the idea of religious freedom compels us to raise questions on where and how to draw the boundary between religion and secular, which in turn has consequences for the definition and distribution of the fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens and subjects.What is missing when religious freedom is imagined exclusively through the language of liberal rights as a set of discrete freedoms claimed by individuals or groups from an assumedly neutral and secular state? What claims can and cannot be made regarding religion, personhood, and freedom? In seeking answers to these questions, I shall attempt to show that religious freedom is not a singular, stable principle existing outside of history but is an inescapably context-bound, polyvalent concept unfolding itself within the divergent histories in differing political orders.