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Department of History

Between the Bedroom and the Courthouse: Domesticity, Economy, and Secularism in Colonial India

Dr Julia Stephens (Cambridge & Princeton)

Date: 13 May 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 13 May 2014Time: 6:30 PM

Venue: Brunei GalleryRoom: B104

Type of Event: Seminar

Series: South Asia History

This paper explores the role that the boundary between family and economy played in colonial secularism. Historians often date the origins of personal law to the late eighteenth century. The paper argues in contrast that associating religious law with the family, and disassociating it from the economy, was a much later and more contested process. The paper explores this history by detailing the debates surrounding a single influential case involving a dispute between a rich Muslim couple over both their familial living arrangements and their finances. The case moved through the Indian legal system in the decade after the Rebellion of 1857, a pivotal period in the history of colonial secularism. The case shows how during this period colonial law solidified a new approach to administering Indian religious laws that pivoted around dividing domestic from economic relations. The paper uses the debate surrounding the case to illustrate both the contingent nature of this definition of secularism and the ongoing contests surrounding its implementation. Courts advanced conflicting constructions of religion as the case worked its way up the judicial system and during its subsequent history as a judicial precedent. The case, and the wider questions it raised about laws governing Muslim marriage, also inspired a rich debates in English and vernacular publications. Through a micro-history of the case the paper explores the ongoing difficulties of untangling family from economy, and the implication of these difficulties for the wider history of colonial secularism.

Organiser: Dr Roy Fischel and Dr Shabnum Tejani