Nandini Chatterjee

Archives as windows. A Zamīndār’s records in a colonial court

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Household archives, Waqf, Zamīndār, Kabuliyat, Privy Council, Bengal.

Despite the welcome reflexivity produced by the «archival turn» in history writing, the predominant image of the archive remains that of the serialized, indexed colonial repository, offering systematic information retrieval, creating a dominant form of knowledge aimed at social control. This article questions that impression, and reveals the ephemeral and derivative nature of colonial archives, especially those of law courts. It uses the voluminous records associated with a single important case decided by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), the final court of appeal of the British Empire. The case of Abul Fata Mahomed Ishak and Ors. v. Russomoy Dhur Chowdhry (JCPC, 1894) was of great importance to the history of Islamic law in colonial India, especially with regards to waqfs or religious endowments. This article explores how parties to the case, mainly members of a land-owning Muslim family in nineteenth-century Bengal, raided their household store of records in order to create a temporary and purpose-built collection aimed at supporting their respective claims. In doing so, this article also uses colonial court archives as a window into the documentation practices of landed lineages in colonial Bengal, tracing patterns of change as well as continuity from earlier periods of time.

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