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The inclusion of a list of Fundamental Rights in the Constitution of 1950 seemed to make real a long-standing Congress promise: that independence from British rule would bring about a dramatic change in the lives of ordinary Indians. Modelling itself on documents such as the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Bill of Rights, the Indian Fundamental Rights set out a vision of the individual citizen-subject, unfettered by notions of gender, religion or caste. The Rights have been seen to mark a profound difference between the nation-state and its colonial predecessor. Underpinning the colonial administration and legal system was an understanding of Indian society as comprising not autonomous individuals but social collectives, defined by caste, gender and religious identity. Indians' relationship with the colonial state was, in the main, mediated through this group identity—access to political office or the law was shaped by a subject's sex and the religious or caste community to which he or she belonged. The passage of the Fundamental Rights suggested a radical reform of this state–society relationship, whereas colonial subjecthood was premised on difference and indirect contact with the state; citizenship suggested a direct relationship between the state and each and every individual Indian.
Between 1955 and 1956 the Government of India passed four Hindu Law Acts to reform and codify Hindu family law. Scholars have understood these acts as a response to growing concern about women's rights but, in a powerful re-reading of their history, this book traces the origins of the Hindu law reform project to changes in the political-economy of late colonial rule. The Hindu Family and the Emergence of Modern India considers how questions regarding family structure, property rights and gender relations contributed to the development of representative politics, and how, in solving these questions, India's secular and state power structures were consequently drawn into a complex and unique relationship with Hindu law. In this comprehensive and illuminating resource for scholars and students, Newbigin demonstrates the significance of gender and economy to the history of twentieth-century democratic government, as it emerged in India and beyond.