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Escaping the Grip of Personal Law in Colonial India: Proving Custom, Negotiating Hindu-ness


Postcolonial perspectives on India's past have tended to focus on representations, which served the purpose of colonial domination. The view, for instance, that Indian society is fundamentally constituted by caste or religion legitimated the supposedly secular or neutral system of governance introduced by the British. Building upon Edward Said's Orientalism (1978), scholars have suggested that some of our most widely held assumptions about Indian society were more rooted in an imperial worldview than in real social experiences of Indians. The attempt of colonial administrators to understand and govern India through the study of ancient texts formed the basis of an Indian variety of Orientalism. How colonial courts deployed this text-based knowledge in relation to the actual practices of religious “communities” is the central focus of this essay.

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Brian Z. Tamanaha , “The Folly of the ‘Social Scientific’ Concept of Legal Pluralism,” Journal of Law and Society (20) (2) (1993): 192217

Rupa Viswanath , “Spiritual Slavery, Material Malaise: ‘Untouchables’ and Religious Neutrality in Colonial South India,” Historical Research 83(219) (Feb. 2010): 124–45

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
  • URL: /core/journals/law-and-history-review
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