By Priyadaranjian Ray

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The bill was finally enacted, in this redrafted form, in April 1937. Differences in the regional High Courts’ interpretations of the provisions of Deshmukh’s Act created further complication. The Shariat Act had been worded in such a way as to avoid this kind of confusion. There was no definition or detail of what constituted Shariat law in the provisions of the Shariat Application Act. 62 The Act simply listed the areas of law to which Indian Muslims were to be subject, giving Muslim jurists considerable power and autonomy to interpret what this in fact entailed.

As with Muslim lawyers’ arguments about waqf, Mitter’s account of the historical development of Hindu law intersected with a drive to improve men’s property rights under the current legal system. The emphasis on social evolution in colonial accounts of the development of Hindu law meant that, while Muslim lawyers focused on religious text, Mitter’s argument focused on women’s rights and more secular arguments about social progress. His argument was not evidence of more liberal attitudes among Hindu lawyers, but a reflection of the structures of colonial personal law.

The Muslim women’s organisations have condemned customary law as it adversely affects their rights and have demanded that the Muslim Personal Law (Shariat) should be made applicable to them. 52 In this way, the bill sought to reinforce the claim made about the Child Marriage Restraint Act, that the primary agent of social reform was not the colonial state but Indians, or in the case of the Shariat Bill, Indian Muslims. At the same time, the bill appealed to Muslim opponents of the Child Marriage Restraint Act; the original wording of early drafts 50 51 52 Haye went on to become Minister for Education in UP, see Ian Talbot, Khizr Tiwana, the Punjab Unionist Party and the Partition of India (Curzon, Richmond, 1996), p.

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