ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Intricacies of a Colonial Trial

Race, Religion and Law in Colonial India: Trials of an Interracial Family by Chandra Mallampalli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 2011; pp 286, $99.

Race, Religion and Law in Colonial India traces the story of an inheritance dispute in an interracial family in early colonial Bellary, south India. The book comprises a detailed study of the evidence and rulings of the case in various legal settings – the district court in Bellary, the sadr adalat appeals court in Madras, and finally, in the judicial committee of the Privy Council in London, the final place where cases originating in the colonies could be decided – over a period of nine years (1854-63).

Through a careful reconstruction of various arguments forwarded by the individuals involved and their legal counsel, the author shows how the racial, caste and religious complexities of the protagonists’ life histories intersected with colonial legal categories and practices, and the ways in which they reformulated each other. This is not a study which argues that colonial law remade Indian society from the top down, as much earlier scholarship has implied. Rather, it contextualises the case in a range of other parallel cases around personal law to demonstrate the dynamic ways in which Indians themselves adapted and appropriated the terms of the law to achieve their own goals, sometimes successfully and other times, not. In appropriating the language of the law, however, the book argues that categories of race, “civilisation” and community had a profound bearing on the ways in which these individuals articulated the multilayered realities of their existence in rather more simple ways.

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