English law: good for Tartar & Hindu
- BELLIGERENT CIVILISATION
The Supreme Court of India: Institutionalising the foundation of Indo-British law. A Telegraph picture
Commenting on English law and its imposition on India, Macaulay, who was convinced of the total supremacy of Western civilisation, had written in his minutes: “I cannot believe it cannot do for a Hindu what it did for the Tartar”, in other words, the Russians.
Prof Pradip Sinha, delivering the Nisith Ranjan Ray Memorial Lecture on ‘Approaching Social History — Calcutta’, organised by the Society for Preservation, Calcutta, spoke at length on how the Supreme Court, an example of “belligerent civilisation”, institutionalised itself and laid the foundation of Indo-British law.
Prof Sinha, who is at present working on Hyde’s Papers at Victoria Memorial Hall, turned what could have been a forbiddingly dry talk, into a lucid account of how English law, at the initial stages, came into conflict with the Hindu legal system.
To them, the Hindu Shastra was a potential source of uncertainty, whereas their law epitomised certainty.
In the 18th Century, the biggest question was, who is the government? No governor-general of the company could claim he was ruler of India. This question was not legally solved till the late 1790s.
However, as Prof Sinha said, the Regulating Act was a “classic case of bumbling”, which was not uncharacteristic of those times in 18th Century. English law is very complex, quite unlike the systems prevailing in Europe which were based on the Roman model. It was introduced in India in a tentative way, though the system with its legacy of legal quibbling continues to hold sway over our country.
English law was applied in the strictest sense in the Nanda Kumar case and in about 10 years’ time, it was considered “untenable”.
In spite of the initial blunders and mistakes and high-handedness of the ruling civilisation, Sir William Jones comes out as the most civilised exponent of the law in the Indian city in the late 18th Century.
His relatively humane approach modified the rigours of English law.
Later, English-educated Bengalis tried to find an alternative to the belligerent civilisation. This was the quest of leaders and poet-philosophers like Gandhi and Tagore.
The shroffs of that period had no faith in the Supreme Court because they believed it brought their credit down. So they would never go to court.
Prof Sinha stressed that it was only in the dispute over the will of Priyamvada Birla that a baniya family has first gone to court.
Prof Sinha concluded by saying that he is not sure that the belligerence does not continue. We are being increasingly subjected to global culture and this is something he cannot come to terms with.
— A STAFF REPORTER