Representing and communicating the law in British India c. 1833-1900

PhD Project

This project explores the way in which representation and communication about English laws and English legal ideals were used as a means of constructing colonial legitimacy in India as part of the process of the transfer of the common law to India. It aims to chart changes in the ways in which colonial laws were communicated and represented in relation to the shift from

colonial rule based on commercial interests under the East India Company to direct rule by the British Crown from 1858. There is strong evidence that after 1858, the new colonial administrators and legal professionals in India viewed the law as a key way of maintaining colonial control, even comparing the letter of the law to the Gospels and the power of the law to military might. A logical question which arises from this regards the role of public communication and representations of the law in creating and maintaining this control.

This project covers a number of events and themes in Indian colonial history and attempts to look at them through the lens of communication. It begins with the Charter Act of 1833, which saw the powers of the East India Company curbed and a greater focus being laid by Westminster on building governmental structures in India. In the following decades, there was a drive for codification of the law in India. My hypothesis is that the Indian Penal Code of 1862 in particular should be seen as a form of communication with the Indian people.

A key focus of the project is the events leading up to as well as the aftermath and consequences of the Indian Mutiny of 1858 and how ideas about legal and political legitimacy were created and spread following the transfer of power to the Crown. Queen Victoria’s proclamation of 1858 and her assumption of the title of ‘Empress of India’ are revisited from the perspective of communication of the black letter law and the representation of English legal ideals. The development of laws against female infanticide and the Ilbert Bill controversy also feature as case studies.

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