Property rights, gender, and human rights discourses in South Asia

by Livia Holden and Sylvia Vatuk


This paper explores and analyses the management of property rights by Muslim women at the level both of customary jurisdictions and of official law-courts in India and in Pakistan in the context of ongoing pressures for developing a global legal framework of human rights. Through a multidisciplinary inquiry combining legal pluralism, feminist methods and collaborative approaches, this paper will investigate the dynamics of the reception, adoption, and implementation of gender equality vis-à-vis property rights in a variety of contexts. This paper will first of all highlight the interplay between customs, personal law, and secular law as ways through which social actors make sense of power, class, gender, and governability. On the basis of published case law and qualitative case study of unreported litigation, when available, this paper will also focus on the multiple interpretative frames of socio-legal narratives to throw light on their implication vis-à-vis legal outcome. The central question of this paper is what are the legal arguments that women develop regarding property rights and what do their legal treatment tell about Muslim law and Muslim identities in South Asia? As such this paper links from a wider perspective to the global movements for human rights in order to see the role of these claims among Muslim communities in South Asia. As a conclusion it will include a scrutiny of the exclusive role of the state for the management of law and dispute resolution.


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