Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Narayan on Widows and Anglo-Hindu law

In 2016, Rochisha Narayan, Yale-NUS College, Singapore, published "Widows, Family, Community, and the Formation of Anglo-Hindu Law in Eighteenth-Century India" in Modern Asian Studies 50:3, 866-97. Here is the abstract:
Late eighteenth-century colonial agrarian and judicial reforms had a direct
impact on women from elite and non-elite backgrounds. Informed by
British liberal ideologies and upper-caste Brahmanical norms, colonial policies
marginalized women’s access to, and control over, resources in the emergent
political economy. In this article, I reconstruct histories of the ways in which
Anglo-Hindu law compromised women’s status as heirs, businesswomen, and
members of society who wielded social capital with other community groups.
Focusing on widows in Banaras who commandeered their property disputes,
I illustrate that pre-colonial precedents of case-resolution under the Banaras
rulers, and practices of ‘forum shopping’ by disputants themselves, shaped
the widows’ approach to the colonial courts. Colonial judicial plans being
incommensurable to everyday life, the courts incorporated pre-colonial forms
of dispute handling and maintained a flexible approach to the practice of colonial
law under the supervision of an Indian magistrate for a period of time. These
characteristicsmade the courts popular among local society in the Banaras region.
However, British officials, insistent on applying abstract scriptural laws, aligned
customary practice to the dictates of Anglo-Hindu law. This article shows that the
narrow legal subject position available to widows under scriptural law reordered
their relationships with family and community networks to their disadvantage.