"Our Women": Construction of Hindu and Muslim Women's Identities by the Religious Nationalist Discourses in India
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Secular nationalism, India?s official ideology and the basis for its secular Constitution, is being challenged by the rising religious nationalist discourses. This has resulted in an ongoing struggle between the secular and religious nationalist discourses. Since women are regarded as symbols of religious tradition and purity, the religious nationalist discourses subject them to increasing rules and regulations aimed at controlling their behavior to conform to the ideal of religious purity. In this study I examine the subject positions that the Hindu and Muslim nationalist discourses in India are constructing for "their women" and its implication for women's citizenship rights. I focus my research on two topics, where religious nationalist discourses intersect with the women's question in obvious ways. These are "the Muslim personal law" and "marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men". The Muslim personal law has emerged as the most important symbol of Muslim identity over the years, and holds an important position within the Hindu and the Muslim nationalist discourses as well as the secular discourse. The debates around the Muslim personal law are centered on questions of religious freedom and equal citizenship rights for Muslim women. The issue of marriages between Hindu women and Muslim men is located in the Hindu nationalist discourse?s larger theme pertaining to the threat that the Muslim "other" poses to the Hindu community/nation. I juxtapose the religious nationalist discourses with the secular nationalist discourse to understand how the latter is contesting and negotiating with the former two to counter the restrictive subject positions that the religious nationalist discourses are constructing for Hindu and Muslim women. The study is based on the content of debates taken from three mainstream English newspapers in India. Further, interviews with people associated with projects related to women rights and/or countering religious nationalism are used to supplement the analysis. The analysis is carried out using concepts from Laclau and Mouffe's discourse theory. The analysis suggests that the subject positions being constructed by the religious nationalist discourses for Hindu and Muslim women, although different from each other, freeze them as subjects of religious communities, marginalizing or rejecting their identities as subjects of State with equal citizenship rights. The women rights and secular discourse counters this by offering a subject position with more agency and rights compared to the former two. However, it is increasingly getting trapped within the boundaries being set by the religious nationalist discourses. I argue that there is a need for women rights and secular discourse to break the boundaries being set by the religious nationalist discourses. In order to prevent the sedimentation of the meaning "women as subjects of community", the secular discourse needs to employ the vocabulary of liberal citizenship as rearticulated in feminist, pluralist terms.
Imam, Zeba (2009). "Our Women": Construction of Hindu and Muslim Women's Identities by the Religious Nationalist Discourses in India. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from