Gender and the Rhetoric of Family Law Reforms in India

The effort at codification of personal laws in India during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s was directed towards addressing a wide range of concerns. It attempted to create a unified legal framework that provided Indian citizens justice in an egalitarian manner, while trying to foster a framework that provided women the space to contribute to the development of the nation. The process also sought to remove discriminations towards backward castes within the Hindu community and in that process also diminished the influence of religion in the public sphere.

The present study concentrates on the communicative processes surrounding the public discourse over the Hindu Code Bill in 1945. In the 1940s, India witnessed an intense public debate over a draft legislation covering aspects of family laws for the Hindu Community, the Hindu Code Bill.  In 1945, a Government appointed committee (the Hindu Law Committee) visited major cities to gather public opinion on the draft. A passionate country-wide debate on family law reform and gender rights was triggered by the tour of the Committee, as it met many lawyers, opinion leaders and organisations. 

The discourse over the Hindu Code Bill in the public sphere witnessed unprecedented participation across all regions and segments of the Indian society and created deep differences across social and religious organisations, political parties and as a whole polarised the entire Indian society over the necessity of the legislation in general and the rights it proposed to confer on women in particular. The debate was of significance to minority communities in India as well (Muslims, Christians and Parsis), as their respective personal laws also came under the scanner of the discourse and voices were raised for reforms. The communicative processes surrounding the Bill had enormous impact on a society in transition, not just through the legal enactments thatfollowed, but also through the  debate’s potential for liberating the Indian mind from deeply embedded notions of patriarchy, allowing for a broader role of women in social development. The debate contributed significantly in the creation of the modern Indian social psyche and feminist consciousness.

The study focusses on the forces that led to the intensification of the debate of 1945, and the reasons as to why legislative efforts confronted significant hurdles. It  examines the roles of a wide variety of social groups and their contribution to the vibrancy of the debate, their respective beliefs and positions, flexibilities and rigidities in their approaches and their relevance in contemporary debates on family law reforms in India. This includes an assessment of the multiplicity of “narrative”.  A major focus are of research is the gender perspective as it explores the role of Women’s organizations in the debate of 1945.

The research is being conducted during the period September 2015 to September 2017.

Researcher: Chitra Sinha

Last modified: 2022-10-14