This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the Republic of India (Republic of India/Bharatiya Ganarajya), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under India's Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) has no legal status.
India is located in South Asia, bordering the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. India is bounded by Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. The capital of India is New Delhi. The official languages are Hindi and English. However, India is a multi-linguistic country, and in addition to the two official languages, the Constitution recognizes 22 others. The country’s population in 2017 was approximately 1.3 billion people, making India the second most populous country. India is a predominantly Hindu country, with about 80% of the population Hindu. Although Muslims only comprise about 14% of the population, India has the third largest Muslim population in the world. India is an observer state of the Arab League.
Constitution & Legal Structure
India is referred to as a federal parliamentary republic. The Constitution of India was adopted in 1950, and was in large part modeled off of the Government of India Act 1935. The Constitution of India establishes India as a union of states, granting separate executives and legislatures for the Union and for each of the states and demarcates the powers of each. However, the Union of India holds the ultimate authority. India follows the Westminster form of government, but with an elected president in the place of the hereditary monarch. The president of India is the nominal head of the country and the supreme commander of the military. However, the real power lies with the Union Council of Ministers headed by the prime minister. Accordingly, the president is expected to act on the advice of the Council of Ministers. The system of government is based on principles of separation and checks and balances and has three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial.
The Constitution of India recognizes certain basic fundamental rights for every citizen of India, such as equality, freedom of religion, and the right to education. Any infringement of fundamental rights can be challenged by any citizen of India in a court of law. The Constitution of India also prescribes some fundamental duties on every citizen in India. The Indian common law system is based on the English model. However, separate personal law codes apply to Muslims, Christians, and Hindus.
Constitutional Status of Islamic Law
Islamic law has no constitutional status in India.
Jurisdiction(s) of Islamic Law
Islamic law has no official jurisdiction of operation in India. However, within Muslim communities in India, Islamic law applies in personal status issues (such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody).
Dominant School of Islamic Law
India has no official school of Islamic law. However, again, in matters of personal status, Muslims in India often utilize sharīʿa courts. The specific school of Islamic law that is applied depends on the individuals involved in the dispute.
Sources of Law for Legal Research
For an extended list of legal resources for this country, see the Library of Congress’s Research Guide, and for a narrative review, see the GlobaLex Foreign Law Research Guide (most updated version, where available). The Constitution is available in the LOC Guide in its original language and at Constitute in English and Arabic translation. For full versions of past constitutions, amendments, and related legislation, see HeinOnline World Constitutions Illustrated or Oxford Constitutions of the World [subscription required for each].