Jour Fixe: Gauri Parasher (Heidelberg): Notes on the Administration of Justice to the Indians by the French (ca. 1765-1827)

Jour Fixe

  • Date: Jun 13, 2016
  • Time: 12:00 - 13:00
  • Speaker: Gauri Parasher
  • PhD Candidate, Heidelberg University
  • Location: MPIeR
  • Room: Z 01
Jour Fixe: Gauri Parasher (Heidelberg): Notes on the Administration of Justice to the Indians by the French (ca. 1765-1827)

Notes on the Administration of Justice to the Indians by the French (ca. 1765-1827)

Gauri Parasher, PhD Candidate,
Heidelberg University
June 2016

Abstract

To judge Indians according to their laws in matters of civil law was the policy adopted by the French administration in Pondicherry in the eighteenth century, first, under Company rule and, starting in 1769, under the King’s rule. Repeatedly mentioned in the historiography of the French legal regime in India and touted as the cornerstone of the colonial administration, there is, however, little research on how this policy was implemented. This is all the more surprising since colonial administrators themselves lacked the necessary knowledge of local laws and customs. How did the early colonial state bridge the gap in its knowledge of local laws and administer justice to its Indian subjects? Based on a combined examination of legislation and civil disputes drawn from contemporary court records, the answer to this question constitutes the main theme of this presentation. To resolve disputes among Indians, French judges frequently took recourse to a variety of individuals and groups, collectively labelled as ‘arbitrators’. Consequently, there developed a dynamic and symbiotic relationship between institutionalised forums (courts) and non-institutionalised forums (arbitration by kin and caste assemblies, business associates, religious authorities). The recourse to arbitrators being more a matter of necessity than choice, the state ultimately sought to increase its own control and authority in the administration of justice to Indians by introducing a number of judicial regulations and reforms in the late 1770s. Among others, one innovative result was the creation of a new institution, the Chambre de Consultation, an arbitral body composed of a group of Indian notables charged with both dispensing justice, albeit under the strict control of the courts, and codifying local laws and customs. Taken together, the widespread use of arbitration, the institutionalisation of an arbitral forum and the attempt to codify local laws not only reveal the ways through which the early French colonial state implemented its policy of judging Indians according to their laws but also serve to illustrate the specificity of the French approach to administering justice in India.

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