Thursday, October 5, 2017

Chaudhry on proprietary rights in British India

Last year, Faisal Chaudhry, now at the University of Arizona, published "A Rule of Proprietary Right for British India: From revenue settlement to tenant right in the age of classical legal thought" in Modern Asian Studies 50:1. Here is the abstract:
Scholars have long debated the impact of the British ‘rule of property’ on
India. In our own day it has become common for historians to hold that the
Raj’s would-be regime of free capitalist property was frustrated by a pervasive
divide between rhetoric and reality which derived from a fundamental lack of
fit between English ideas and Indian land control practices. While seemingly
novel, the contemporary emphasis on the theory-practice divide is rooted in an
earlier ‘revisionist’ perspective among late-nineteenth-century colonial thinkers
who argued that land control in the subcontinent derived from a uniquely Indian
species of ‘proprietary’ (rather than genuinely propertied) right-holding. In this
article, I critically examine the revisionist discourse of ‘proprietary right’ by
situating it in a broader comparative perspective, both relative to earlier ideas
about rendering property ‘absolute’ during the East India Company’s rule and
relative to the changing conception of the property right among legal thinkers
in the central domains of the Anglo-common law world. In so doing, the article
significantly revises our understanding of the relationship between property, law,
and political economy in the subcontinent from the late eighteenth to the late
nineteenth century.