Constitutions and Minority Rights: Case Studies from South Asia

AHA Session 46
Society for Advancing the History of South Asia 2
Thursday, January 4, 2018: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Calvert Room (Omni Shoreham, East Lobby)
Vinayak Chaturvedi, University of California, Irvine
Vinayak Chaturvedi, University of California, Irvine

Session Abstract

The Constitutions of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are founding documents that embody the collective aspirations of free people. They provide the legal framework and principles through which these nations’ religious, ethnic, linguistic, and other diversities are managed.

A study of contemporary debates within and outside of the Constituent Assemblies can elucidate how opposing demands were negotiated; they also reveal the gaps and inconsistencies between the high-flowing rhetoric that made it to the final version of the document, and the rough and tumble world of negotiation that preceded it. Some of these gaps are all the more important to examine because the issues that were contentious during the drafting of the constitutions have returned to haunt these countries, periodically, and with redoubled intensity. Our panel, composed of South Asianists, will examine four such issues from the constitutions of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Mridu Rai’s paper focuses on the making of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution that gives the region of Jammu and Kashmir a special, unique status within the union of India but construes its citizens along religious lines in a purportedly secular document. Cassie Adcock discusses the prehistory of Article 48 of the Indian Constitution, which arguably sought to contain cow protectionists’ demands within the secular bounds of agriculture, but ultimately provided the basis for laws prohibiting cow-slaughter. Neeti Nair examines the context that produced the Objectives Resolution that proclaimed Pakistan would be based on “Islamic principles of social justice,” and its ramifications for Pakistan’s non-Muslim others. Dina Siddiqi writes on the exclusionary implications of the discourse around secularism in Bangladesh today as well as during its founding.

These papers on minority rights in three very different constitutions also point to the benefits of doing comparative constitutional history. In the light of recent debates on the special protections afforded to religious minorities by the American constitution, the debates from South Asia proffer insights that are interesting and, perhaps, counter-intuitive.

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