The panel discusses how law framed processes of state formation, subject formation and citizen rights in colonial and post-colonial India. Rather than principles and philosophy of law, it will elaborate issues related to legal practice, such as contestations over land, personal and community rights.
Law, legal rights and the administration of justice provide the discursive framework of historical processes of state formation and subject/citizen formation. They are manifested through dispute and negotiation in arenas as widely apart as parliamentary debates, administrative/bureaucratic practice, and the social realities of violent protest against state appropriation of land. The core concern of the panel is to explore how legal practice influenced and to a certain extent shaped the emerging colonial polity, and the nature of the state in colonial and post-colonial India. Under what conditions, where and when did the Indian citizen emerge? Since early colonial rule, the political rhetoric of subjecthood has echoed contemporary debates on citizen rights. Yet in legal practice, the colonial subject was only partially recognized as a subject vested with full rights in the polity. Selective judicial review of competing rights resulted either in the legitimation or the disentitlement of disparate social and political programmes. The panel emphasises legal practice, whether in the court rooms or in places where government policy was acted out in districts and in conflicts involving various interests, such as land rights, personal rights, and community rights.