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The Marital Patchwork of Colonial South Asia: Forum Shopping from Britain to Baroda


The British Empire created channels for imperially intended movement. Commodities, bodies, and ideas flowed along axes structured by imperial law and technology. Unintended motion also occurred along these same planes. With every legal structure meant to promote one type of behavior came litigants devising strategies to achieve the opposite. Collusion, bribery, forgery, and perjury were favorite ways to manipulate imperial law. The more permissible strategy of forum shopping was another. Forum shopping is the attempt to push one's case into a jurisdiction promising an optimal result when there is ambiguity over the controlling jurisdiction. It reveals the perception among litigants that bottom-up—and sideways—mechanics exist within legal systems. Unlike work on resistance to state law through extralegal means, I here examine the ways parties tried to work strategically within the confines of the legal system to reconfigure their marital situations. Rather than documenting the success of these maneuvers, however, I note their more common failure. The colonial courts usually saw through unconvincing attempts to forum shop. The fact that litigants continued to try reflects the ingenuity, arguably, of the “legal lottery” mechanism at work in British imperial law. Colonial law, and therefore colonial rule, reinforced its hold on subjects by dangling before them the possibility of individual relief through rule-of-law proceduralism.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Stefan Voigt , “Are International Merchants Stupid? Their Choice of Law Sheds Doubt on the Legal Origin Theory,” Journal of Empirical Legal Studies 5 (1) (2008): 120

Lawrence M. Friedman , “A Dead Language: Divorce Law and Practice before No-Fault,” Virginia Law Review 86 (2000): 14971536

Mitra Sharafi , “A New History of Colonial Lawyering: Likhovski and Legal Identities in the British Empire,” Law and Social Inquiry 32 (2007): 1082–83

Antoinette Burton , “From Child Bride to ‘Hindoo Lady’: Rukhmabai and the Debate on Sexual Respectability in Imperial Britain,” American Historical Review 103 (4) (1998): 1119–46

Mitra Sharafi , “The Semi-Autonomous Judge in Colonial India: Chivalric Imperialism Meets Anglo-Islamic Dower and Divorce Law,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 46 (2009): 7274

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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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