Forvm Romanvm: Prof. Dr Ishita Banerjee-Dube gave a lecture on law and gender in colonial and modern India
On April 9th, 2021, the Forum audience had the opportunity to hear the lecture “The Personal and the Collective: Law, Gender, Community in Colonial and Contemporary India” by Prof. Dr Ishita Banerjee-Dube of the Center for Asian and African Studies at the College of Mexico. She spoke of the British codification of laws in colonial India, where all matters of religion (including family and inheritance law) were codified separately for the Hindu and Muslim populations, on a personal basis – maintaining the view that Hindu law was based primarily on the scriptures and not later customs as well. This codification resulted in a change in the meaning of some legal terms by taking over English expressions, but also an excessively orientalist insistence that Hindu law is religious, while in the West law is separated from religion. She then referred to the influence of this administration on the position of women. She spoke about the notorious but often misunderstood custom of suttee, as well as the issue of raising the age for the beginning of marital sexual relations, emphasizing that debates on these important issues were conducted entirely between men, without the participation of women whose interests were allegedly involved. After India’s independence, personal laws were retained by Hindu, Islamic, Parsi and Christian communities, with everyone being able to choose whether to follow general (uniform) regulations or personal ones for their group – but faster reform of Hindu law than others led to is to the political conflicts between it as ‘progressive’ and others (primarily Sharia) which resisted reforms, which we have seen on the examples of several interesting cases. After the lecture, an interesting discussion developed both on the specific institutions of India, as well as on universal topics such as the close adherence to tradition of family and inheritance law and the often artificially imposed conflict between the individual and the collective.