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Title: Religious autonomy and the personal law system
Author: Ahmed, Farrah
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis examines the Indian system of personal laws (‘the PLS’), under which the state applies a version of religious doctrine to the family matters of citizens whom it identifies as belonging to different religious groups. There has been a lengthy and persistent debate over the PLS, particularly in relation to its discriminatory effects upon women. However, another problem with the PLS has been little commented-upon. Supporters of the PLS emphasise its positive impact on religious freedom to such an extent that there is a pervasive assumption that the PLS is, indeed, good for religious freedom. But there has been surprisingly little critical assessment of the truth of this claim in either academic or political debates. This thesis, a work of applied normative legal theory, attempts to fill this important gap in the literature on the PLS. The thesis addresses the question of how the PLS affects one conception of religious freedom, namely religious autonomy. Its principal findings are that the PLS interferes with the religious autonomy of those subject to it by affecting their religious options (by interfering with their freedom from religion and their freedom to practice religion) and by harming their self-respect (by discriminating on the grounds of sex and religion, and by misrecognising their religious identities). Furthermore, the thesis finds that the PLS cannot be defended in the name of religious autonomy based on the possibility of exit from the system, the advantage of having the ‘option of personal law’, the power it gives people to bind their future selves, the expressive potential of the personal laws, the contribution it makes to membership in a religious community, the contribution it makes to religious group autonomy, or the recognition or validation it provides for religious identities. These conclusions imply that concerns relating to religious autonomy constitute an important set of objections to the PLS. The thesis then considers several reform proposals, including certain modifications of the PLS, a move towards a millet system, ‘internal’ reform of individual personal laws and the introduction of a Uniform Civil Code. It particularly focusses on one reform possibility – religious alternative dispute resolution – which has not been considered closely in the Indian context.
Supervisor: Green, Leslie; Ghanea, Nazila; Khaitan, Tarunabh Sponsor: HSBC Bank plc ; Sloane Robinson Foundation ; Crewe Foundation ; Lincoln College
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Law ; Family law ; Human rights ; Legal philosophy ; personal law ; personal status ; law and religion ; religious freedom ; multiculturalism ; religious tribunals ; religious arbitration ; India ; South Asia