Postcolonial states responded differently to the group-specific personal laws that were recognized in many colonial societies. While some retained most colonial personal laws (e.g., Lebanon) and others introduced major changes (e.g., Tunisia), most introduced modest yet significant changes (e.g., Egypt, India, Indonesia). Indian policy makers retained personal laws specific to religious groups, and did not change the minority laws, although minority recognition did not rule out culturally grounded reform. They changed Hindu law alone based on their values, as they saw Hindu social reform as the key to making nation and citizen. Reform proposals drew from the modern Western valuation of the nuclear family, and from Hindu traditions that were reformed to meet standards of modernity. As Hindu nationalists and other conservatives defended lineage authority, legislators retained much of the lineage control over ancestral property. But they provided limited divorce rights, reduced restrictions on mate choice, and banned bigamy. The visions driving the initial proposals influenced many later changes in India's family laws.
Narendra Subramanian (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University.