Constitutionalism and gender justice in South Asia is underwritten by the colonial legacy of each of the countries in this region, that put in place plural legal systems ensuring the troubled coexistence of religious with secular/public laws, each with its own institutional apparatuses. While there are differences in the ways in which this plurality plays out, a uniform consequence has been the systematic dispossession of women through the convergence of state with community in matters related to women’s entitlements – almost inevitably relegated to the private realm. The central question that Indira Jaising attempts to address is, what is the relationship between the right to the freedom of religion and the rights to equality before the law and against discrimination, especially where religion is interpreted in a way that sanctions and validates discrimination? However even before this question is posed there are more fundamental ones that must be resolved: the question of defining religion, sifting through practices to settle up which are religious practices, and then deciding which religious practices are entitled to constitutional protection under the freedom of religion provision, have led the courts to devise jurisprudential strategies that remain problematic.
March 2006, volume 30, No 3