Theories of State and Family

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Book Chapter

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Barbara Stark and Jacqueline Heaton








The goal of this chapter is to highlight the role of family law as a site of governance and distribution. Following a brief description of theoretical interventions on family law in this vein, the chapter then turns to the specific case of India where family law is complicated by a system of “personal laws” that gives the authority to govern the family to religious leadership. Focusing on Muslim Personal Law (MPL) the chapter demonstrates how family law not only provides the opportunity for the state to govern family but also offers a tool to manage religious minorities, in this case, Muslims. Issues of gender are central to the management of family, community, and religion in India where secular and religious law interact to create a complicated interplay of rules that individuals must navigate in the context of marriage and divorce. These rules are produced and maintained in the context of a country that faces high levels of communal violence. This chapter argues that transformations in MPL in India are not only the product of shifting religious belief and practice but the outcome of broader social, political, and economic contestation. By contextualizing MPL it is possible to see how family law in India not only distributes rights and responsibilities within the family, it also works to govern the Muslim community.

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