The problematic nature of religious autonomy to minorities in democracies - the case of India's Muslims

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12 Scopus citations


This article focuses on the ambivalent effect of religious autonomy in India and the outcome for democracy in the country. The Indian constitution guarantees autonomy to its religious minorities, and promises the minorities the freedom independently to manage their religious affairs in addition to a proportional share of the budget. At the same time, the constitution emphasizes the aspiration to legislate 'uniform personal laws' for all the citizens of India in accordance with the principles of secularism, equality and with India's self-definition as a civic nation. This recommendation has however remained a 'dead letter' until today. In this domain, the state has constituted a civic law for Hindus, which adjusts Hinduism to democratic principles. In this sense, the state has nationalized Hinduism, and the government has assumed authority and reformed Hindu civic and marriage laws. However, although they have tried, the state's legal and political institutions have not interfered thus far with Muslim marriage and religious laws. Muslims are committed to the Sharia while Hindus must obey the state's civic laws. By avoiding enforcement of affirmative action for Muslims in the spheres of political representation or public employment, while simultaneously prohibiting Hindus' group rights, and providing religious autonomy to the Muslim minority, the Constitution, which stresses so-called secularism as well as minority protection, intensifies the conflict between these two governance principles. The conclusion is that this situation not only leads to ideological conflicts and resource competition but also, overall, threatens the stability of India's democracy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1261-1281
Number of pages21
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2009


  • Deeply divided societies
  • Hindu-Muslim conflict
  • India
  • Minority rights
  • Muslim personal law
  • Muslims in India
  • Religious autonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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