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First, a large and elaborate system of Inheritance and Family Law, the Musulman pretty uniform throughout India, though in some regions modified by Hindu custom, the Hindu less uniform. Each was utterly unlike English law and incapable of being fused with it. Each was closely bound up with the religion and social habits of the people. Each was contained in treatises of more or less antiquity and authority, some of the Hindu treatises very ancient and credited with almost divine sanction, the Musulman treatises of course posterior to the Koran, and consisting of commentaries upon that Book and upon the traditions that had grown up round it.
Secondly, a large mass of customs relating to the occupation and use of land and of various rights connected with tillage and pasturage, including water-rights, rights of soil-accretion on the banks of rivers, and forest-rights. The agricultural system and the revenue system of the country rested upon these land customs, which were of course mostly unwritten and which varied widely in different districts.
Thirdly, a body of customs, according to our ideas comparatively scanty and undeveloped, but still important, relating to the transfer and pledging of property, and to contracts, especially commercial contracts.
Fourthly, certain penal rules drawn from Musulman law and more or less enforced by Musulman princes.
Thus there were considerable branches of law practically non-existent. There was hardly any law of civil and criminal procedure, because the methods of justice were primitive, and would have been cheap,
but for the prevalence of corruption among judges as well as witnesses. There was very little of the law of Torts or Civil Wrongs, and in the law of property of contracts and of crimes, some departments were wanting or in a rudimentary condition. Of a law relating to public and constitutional rights there could of course be no question, since no such rights existed.
In this state of facts the British officials took the line which practical men, having their hands full of other work, would naturally take, viz. the line of least resistance. They accepted and carried on what they found. Where there was a native law, they applied it, Musulman law to Musulmans, Hindu law to Hindus, and in the few places where they were to be found, Parsi law to Parsis, Jain law to Jains. Thus men of every creed—for it was creed, not race nor allegiance by which men were divided and classified in Indialived each according to his own law, as Burgundians and Franks and Romanized Gauls had done in the sixth century in Europe. The social fabric was not disturbed, for the land customs and the rules of inheritance were respected, and of course the minor officers, with whom chiefly the peasantry came in contact, continued to be natives. Thus the villager scarcely felt that he was passing under the dominion of an alien power, professing an alien faith. His life flowed on in the same equable course beside the little white mosque, or at the edge of the sacred grove. A transfer of power from a Hindu to a Musulman sovereign would have made more difference to him than did the establishment of British rule; and life was more placid than it would have been under either a rajah or a sultan, for the marauding bands which
had been the peasants' terror were soon checked by European officers.
So things remained for more than a generation. So indeed things remain still as respects those parts of law which are inwoven with religion, marriage, adoption (among Hindus) and other family relations, and with the succession to property. In all these matters native law continues to be administered by the Courts the English have set up; and when cases are appealed from the highest of those Courts to the Privy Council in England, that respectable body determines the true construction to be put on the Koran and the Islamic Traditions, or on passages from the mythical Manu, in the same business-like way as it would the meaning of an Australian statutel. Except in some few points to be presently noted, the Sacred Law of Islam and that of Brahmanism remain unpolluted by European ideas. Yet they have not stood unchanged, for the effect of the more careful and thorough examination which the contents of these two systems have received from advocates, judges, and text-writers, both native and English, imbued with the scientific spirit of Europe, has been to clarify and define them, and to develop out of the half-fluid material more positive and rigid doctrines than had been known before. Something like this may probably have been done by the Romans for the local or tribal law of their provinces.
In those departments in which the pre-existing 1 It is related that a hill tribe of Kols, in Central India, had a dispute with the Government of India over some question of forest rights. The case having gone in their favour, the Government appealed to the Judicial Committee. Shortly afterwards a passing traveller found the elders of the tribe assembled at the sacrifice of a kid. He inquired what deity was being propitiated, and was told that it was a deity powerful but remote, whose name was Privy Council.
customs were not sufficient to constitute a body of law large enough and precise enough for a civilized Court to work upon, the English found themselves obliged to supply the void. This was done in two ways. Sometimes the Courts boldly applied English law. Sometimes they supplemented native custom by common sense, i.e. by their own ideas of what was just and fair. The phrase 'equity and good conscience' was used to embody the principles by which judges were to be guided when positive rules, statutory or customary, were not forthcoming. To a magistrate who knew no law at all, these words would mean that he might follow his own notions of natural justice,' and he would probably give more satisfaction to suitors than would his more learned brother, trying to apply confused recollections of Blackstone or Chitty. In commercial matters common sense would be aided by the usage of traders. In cases of Tort native custom was not often available, but as the magistrate who dealt out substantial justice would give what the people had rarely obtained from the native courts, they had no reason to complain of the change. As to rules of evidence, the young Anglo-Indian civilian would, if he were wise, forget all the English technicalities he might have learnt, and make the best use he could of his mother-wit 1.
For the first sixty years or more of British rule there was accordingly little or no attempt to Anglify the law of India, or indeed to give it any regular and systematic form. Such alterations as it underwent were the natural result of its being dispensed by Europeans. But to this general rule there were two exceptions, the law of Procedure and the law of Crimes. Courts had been established in the Presidency towns even before the era of conquest began. As their business increased and subordinate Courts were placed in the chief towns of the annexed provinces, the need for some regular procedure was felt. An Act of the British Parliament of A.D. 1781 empowered the Indian Govern. ment to make regulations for the conduct of the provincial Courts, as the Court at Fort William (Calcutta) had already been authorized to do for itself by an Act of 1773. Thus a regular system of procedure, modelled after that of England, was established; and the Act of 1781 provided that the rules and forms for the execution of process were to be accommodated to the religion and manners of the natives.
1 For the facts given in the following pages I am much indebted to the singularly lucid and useful treatise of Sir C. P. Ilbert (formerly Legal Member of the Viceroy's Council) entitled The Government of India.
As respects penal law, the English began by adopting that which the Musulman potentates had been accustomed to apply. But they soon found that many of its provisions were such as a civilized and nominally Christian government could not enforce. Mutilation as a punishment for theft, for instance, and stoning for sexual offences, were penalties not suited to European notions; and still less could the principle be admitted that the evidence of a non-Musulman is not receivable against one of the Faithful. Accordingly a great variety of regulations were passed amending the Musulman law of crimes from an English point of view. In Calcutta the Supreme Court did not hesitate to apply English penal law to natives; and applied it to some purpose at a famous crisis in the fortunes of Warren Hastings when in 1775) it