The state has grown to be a particularly pressing concern for Indian
feminism in recent years, especially following the Shahbano issue in
the 1980s. This controversy over a legal case, in which a Muslim
woman claimed maintenance under the Criminal Procedure Code
and was opposed by proponents of Muslim personal law, definitively
altered the Indian political scene as no previous post-Independence
event had. It also presented Indian feminists with a dilemma about
their own political choices: whether to support a uniform egalitarian
civil code for women of all communities or throw their weight behind
minority communities’ identity crisis in a climate of increasing major-
itarian resurgence.
While the state has always been an important locus for any femi-
nism, as a significant site of the construction of gender and citizen-
ship, it was the Shahbano case that brought it sharply into focus as an
issue, theoretical as well as political, for the Indian women’s move-
ment. Three major developments in the years since then, all similarly
related to policies of the state, have been similarly ‘‘critical’’ for femi-
nism, as Maitreyi Krishnaraj describes it: the new economic program
of liberalization and globalization, the uniform civil code debates
(sparked o√ by Shahbano), and the proposal for women’s reservation.
Economic liberalization’s ‘‘vociferous clamour for doing away with
big government’’ has forced feminists and left-liberals into a position
where they are now seen as ‘‘defenders of the state’’—even though
earlier they had been ‘‘harsh critics’’ of its ‘‘inadequate guarantees for
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