Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Question of Community

A Question of Community
Religious Groups and Colonial Law
Amrita Shodhan
demy octavo hb 222 pp ISBN 978-81-85604-43-6 Jan 2001 Rs 350

What happens to the losers in history? What changes can we expect when we examine the defeat of the Khojas and the Pushtimargis who went to court because of internal dissent and found they lost some of their autonomy as self-functioning polities? The law court in the mid-nineteenth century presented them with interpretations of a homogenized Islam and Hinduism. The author presents two famous and popular legal trials in Bombay, the Aga Khan Case and The Maharaj Libel Case, where decisions were taken on the the construction of unitary religious community, and offers a discussion on its political and social implications. As the colonial judiciary started to establish its jurisdiction over the Indians, it began to redefine the individual polities, which these religious groups were said to resemble. Using its Orientalist knowledge and the new reforming ideas of the Western-educated Indian elite, it defined the different polities as belonging either to Islam or Hinduism, obscuring the great divergences within them.

Amrita Shodhan is an independent scholar. She received her PhD in South Asian Languages and Civilization from the University of Chicago.

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