SOAS University of London

School of Law

Law and Society in South Asia

Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Taught in:
Full Year

This module of seminars involves the detailed study of family laws and constitutional laws of South Asian countries, in particular India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as the smaller countries, if there is student demand. Some students will have studied a historical introduction to the major religious legal systems of the region, others will have to acquire this background knowledge at the start of the module.

The theoretical and practical framework of the interaction of legal and social systems in the region, within the wider context of attempted global legal ordering today, provides a background in front of which specific topics are analysed in detail. In the first term, these comprise family law issues, such as concepts of marriage and divorce, joint family, child marriage and polygamy, dowry problems and violence against women, maintenance and the much-debated issue of uniform civil codes.

In the second term, a selection of constitutional law issues is offered for study, focusing on questions of access to justice, human rights protection and good governance. Topics such as public interest litigation, the growing jurisprudence on the right to life, environmental law, protective discrimination and freedom of religion will be offered.

As an interdisciplinary law module, this module fits well into the MA Area Studies (South Asia) programme and allows students to supplement their socio-political studies with detailed analysis of legal material.

Students who take this module as part of the MA in International and Comparative Legal Studies will probably find the comparative study of South Asian legal developments most relevant within a wider international human rights context. Since the module involves a lot of applied Islamic law, it also fits well into individual study programmes focused on Muslim law.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the module, a student will:

  • Have acquired a sound knowledge of South Asian legal systems and an advanced understanding of their origins, functions, and impact.
  • Be able to apply critical and social theories to the analysis of South Asian laws, with particular focus on the role of South Asian laws as means of achieving social change and social justice.
  • Be able to illustrate the contextual nature South Asian laws and to select appropriate theoretical bases for examining the nexus between law and culture, identity, religion, economy, and politics.
  • Be able carry out interdisciplinary analysis of South Asian legal issues, with an appropriate awareness of the purposes and limits of such a methodological approach.
  • Have developed critical skills in dealing with cases, statutes, primary and secondary sources, and solving the specific problems presented by such materials in South Asian contexts.
  • Be able to carry out advanced independent research in the field of South Asian laws, aimed at explaining change and dynamics, making inferences about cause and effect through systematic comparison of cases and analysis of data.


  • Weekly 2 hour lecture

Method of assessment

  • Coursework: 50% (4000 words)
  • Unseen written exam: 50%


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules