Disinheriting daughters, applying Hindu laws of inheritance to the Khoja Muslim community in western India, 1847-1937

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Hickling, Carissa
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In the early nineteenth century, the Khoja Muslim community of Western India had a remarkably syncretic culture and religious life with a unique blend of Hindu, Sunni and Shi'a Islamic traditions. From 1847-1937, the Khojas were distinguished as a distinct community by the British, requiring judicial recognition of their unique customs and practices. The Bombay courts determined that a Khoja 'custom' which disinherited daughters meant that Hindu, not Muslim, laws of inheritance applied to this Muslim sect. The colonial courts' response to claims of disinheriting daughters and other customs fostered a more conservative and restricted understanding of Khoja women's rights of inheritance and control over property than was ever understood by Khoja women themselves. By the late nineteenth century, the discourse both within the courts and by Khoja men reflected a desire to limit women's rights of inheritance even more than that found in Hindu law. The contradictory application of Hindu and Muslim law further disadvantaged Khoja women as it simultaneously denied them rights of inheritance under Muslim law by applying modified Hindu law, yet strictly enforced Muslim law in marital disputes by disallowing Khoja customs which mitigated the more negative consequences for women in unilateral Muslim divorces. How and why the legal position of disinheriting daughters--and the restricting of Khoja women's rights in general--was determined, upheld, and debated form 1847 to 1937 is the problem examined in this thesis.