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Parsi Legal Culture in British India


September 27, 2013
12:15 pm - 1:30 pm
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Colloquium with Mitra Sharafi, University of Wisconsin-Madison.  For Religious Studies faculty, graduate students, and Stanford-affiliated guests.  RSVP to Ai Tran.  Lunch provided.

This talk explores the unusual and strategic use of law by one ethno-religious minority in colonial South Asia. The example of the Parsis, who were Persian migrants to India and followers of Zoroastrianism, shows how one ethno-religious community gained, rather than lost, cultural autonomy through its heavy use of colonial law. As lobbyists, legislators, lawyers, judges, jurists and litigants, Parsis worked from within and through the colonial state, rather than from outside or against it, to de-Anglicize the law that applied to them. By the end of British rule in 1947, Parsi law consisted of distinctive legal institutions and substantive law, all of which came about through Parsi-led initiatives and professional opportunities exploited by Parsis, as well as a steady traffic of intra-group litigation. Through the adoption of the colonizer’s legal ways, Parsis came to control that law that governed them.

Mitra Sharafi is a legal historian of South Asia at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She holds law degrees from Cambridge and Oxford and a doctorate in history from Princeton. Her book, Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia: Parsi Legal Culture, 1772-1947, is forthcoming in 2014 with Cambridge University Press. Sharafi’s research has been funded by the Institute for Advanced Study through the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council.  In addition to teaching at the UW Law School, she is a core faculty member of UW’s interdisciplinary undergraduate Legal Studies program and is affiliated with the History Department and Center for South Asia.