Law and the Economy in Colonial India

Law and the Economy in Colonial India

Tirthankar Roy and Anand V. Swamy

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226387642

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


At independence from British colonial rule (1947), India inherited from the Raj a complex legal system, including elaborate laws about private property and commercial contracts. Opinions differ on the quality of the legacy. Some historians suggest that the legal system served imperial power, others that it helped trade and enterprise grow. This book revisits the debate with a careful analysis of the origin of property and contractual laws. It uncovers two distinct ways that laws emerged. On the one hand, with law on property, especially agricultural land, indigenous rules, local power, political expediency, and fiscal needs were more influential factors in the making of laws than were concepts borrowed from Europe. With commercial and corporate law, on the other hand, there was considerable borrowing from European legal theory. In all cases, the Raj struggled with insufficient knowledge of pre-existing norms, limited capacity to enforce its laws, and the enormous diversity and differentiation within Indian society. The chaotic course of legal evolution and limited state capacity made British Indian law a disorderly system, and a legacy of questionable value.