The Concept of Religion and the Debate on the Rights of Women in the Constitutional Debates of India

Journal article

Brekke, Torkel (2009) The Concept of Religion and the Debate on the Rights of Women in the Constitutional Debates of India, Nordic Journal of Religion and Society 22 (1): 71–85.

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I intend to show that religion was seen as an obstacle to the improvement of women’s rights in India in the debates of the Constituent Assembly during the 1940s. In order to understand this negative view of the role of religion in society, we need to understand two very different concepts of religion current in India during the period. I call these the universalist and the particularist concepts of religion. These two concepts were associated with dichotomies like universal religion and particular religious traditions, positive religion and negative; inclusive and exclusive, progressive religion and conservative religion. To most members of the Constituent Assembly, religion was seen as inseparable from the caste-system, from local customs, rituals, law, and general worldview. I argue that this particularist concept of religion shaped the dominant views and attitudes about the public role of religion in the debates about the Constitution of the Republic of India. As a consequence, religion was perceived as a barrier to social reform in a number of different areas. My focus will be on the rights of women.

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