Beyond the impasse: ‘Muslim feminism(s)’ and the Indian women’s movement


Since its inception, the contemporary women’s movement has had a contentious relationship with religion. This was demonstrated most clearly in the debates around the cases of Shah Bano and Roop Kanwar during the 1980s, which sparked a period of reflection within the women’s movement over the question of representation. Since then, the movement has evolved considerably, becoming increasingly institutionalised at one level, and at the same time experiencing fragmentation and diversification. This article looks at the emergence of two networks advocating Muslim women’s rights, the Muslim Women’s Rights Network (MWRN) and the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA), and contextualises their emergence within the wider context of the women’s movement and the evolution of feminism in India. MWRN and BMMA are indicative of the growing assertion of ‘minority feminisms’ in India and aim to represent women’s multiple identities, including their religious identities, while also struggling for gender justice. Both networks differ in the way they approach religion ideologically and strategically as well as in the way they position themselves vis-à-vis the women’s movement. However, their appearance marks an important shift both within the women’s movement as well as in the formulation of community identities in India, with ‘Muslim women’ being positively reformulated by these networks as a category that asserts political agency rather than passivity and victimhood.


Kirmani, N. Beyond the impasse: ‘Muslim feminism(s)’ and the Indian women’s movement. Contributions to Indian Sociology (2011) 45 (1) 1-26. [DOI: 10.1177/006996671004500101]

Beyond the impasse: ‘Muslim feminism(s)’ and the Indian women’s movement

Published 1 January 2011