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Timothy Lubin

Abstract

This article reviews the main scholastic norms relevant to property and land rights in ancient and medieval India, and then surveys a range of inscriptions that illustrate the contours of land law in practice. The evidence suggests that India developed a sophisticated concept of landed property from earliest history, with conceptual tools and legal instruments to define the rights of owners vis-à-vis rulers, rival claimants, and holders of subordinate interests (such as tenants, cultivators, mortgagees, etc.). It further shows that although earlier inscriptions deployed those tools and instruments in a narrow range of transfers between rulers and Brahmins or other religious groups, subsequent periods provide evidence of an increasingly wider application, including gifts by non-elite donors, ordinary contractual land transfers, and resolution of property disputes. In some cases, the implication seems to be that the legal framework was more widespread in practice but generated durable records (in metal or stone) only for elite actors; in many cases, it seems likely that elite legal resources became more widely available over time. This survey also notes how documents bring to the fore aspects of property law—the role of councils and arbitrators in administering the law (rather than the king or his officers), or the use of documents to carve out special rights—that are less prominent in scholastic treatments such as Dharmaśāstra.

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Bhavani Raman

Abstract

From the late eighteenth century struggles over untitled and unassessed land in Madras became completely entangled with the East India Company’s efforts to craft its sovereign powers. These lands could not be leached of their social meanings and use and instead, competing ideas of ownership incarnated sovereignty as eviction and the Company as a pre-eminent land developer.

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Sudev Sheth

Abstract

The meaning of land revenue farming in Indian history has eluded consensus. Some view it as an administrative aberration indicating weak state control, while others see it as a strategy for consolidating authority. This essay traces the historical development of iqṭāʻ and ijārah, two Perso-Arabic terms frequently translated from the sources as ‘revenue farming estate’. I then suggest that existing perspectives do not capture the broader structure and significance of various entitlements to land revenue. Instead, I suggest that entitlements be schematized according to how regularized the right was, whether it was permanent, and how duty-bound the right holder was. In this formulation, revenue farm refers to a complex of rights and duties secured by contract in which a sovereign transferred the temporary exploitation of a holding for rent in advance. It was one of four tenurial complexes under which entitlements fell, the others being estates from bureaucratic assignment, hereditary occupation or possession by grant/gift, and tributary or chieftaincy.

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Faisal Chaudhry

Abstract

The introductory essay to this special double issue on “Repossessing Property in South Asia: Land, Rights and Law Across the Early Modern/Modern Divide” reviews existing historical scholarship on land control and proprietary right in the Indian subcontinent in order to contextualize the contribution made by the articles that follow. Dividing earlier writings—by historians and anthropologists since the 1950s—into three phases/thematics, the introduction shows how work on South Asia has long grappled with property both as a material relation and as an alien cultural category. Making the case that we must think about property’s conceptual history as being necessitated by more than just the critique of Eurocentrism, the essay clarifies how the articles that follow both continue and extend past discussion. Overall, it argues that by providing integrated perspectives on property’s material and ideational dimensions, our articles will be illuminating both to scholars of Afro-Asia and those interested in law, political economy and political culture more generally.

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Farhat Hasan

Abstract

Critiquing the commodity-centered frames of reference, this paper looks at property not within an economic logic, but as a set of practices that served to structure and reconfigure social relations. Based on a study of property documents and court papers, the essay argues that property was not simply an index of wealth, but a medium through which social relations were affirmed, reproduced and contested. Owing to the identification of property with the honor of families and caste groups, transactions in property were socially regulated activities that bore the imprint of local power relations. Property documents were imbued with a plethora of meanings, and this was because the scribal-literate tradition in Mughal India co-existed with an oral-performative culture. Writing was used by social actors in a wide variety of ways, and for different sets of objectives, sometimes to reinforce the social order, on other occasions to disrupt it.

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Faisal Chaudhry

Abstract

This article sets out a framework for understanding two key issues in the history of early modern and modern South Asia. First, it addresses the vexed question of the generalizability of the “Western” concept of property to Indo-Islamicate land systems. Rather than beginning from the idea of ‘Islamic property law/relations’ it proposes that we reconstruct concepts relating to the control of the earth’s material substrate in terms of four modes of idiomizing land in the Islamicate tradition. In light of how the latter reconstruction suggests that (Indo-)Islamicate modes of idiomization focused on the produce of land more than land itself, the article then turns to a second issue. This concerns the similarities and differences between the deontic cultures of rights and responsibilities that characterized early modern polities (both in Mughal India and England) and nineteenth-century ones (like metropolitan Britain’s and that emerging from the East India Company’s so-called rule of property in the subcontinent).

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Upal Chakrabarti

Abstract

This essay considers—as an integrated space of discursive practices—disputes over proprietary titles in an obscure locality, debates over the authentic “Indian” proprietary form in British India, and a conceptual recasting of political-economic categories in Britain, over the first half of the nineteenth century. It argues that “property” was produced by this space as a marker of political power/sovereignty, its “indigenous/Indian” form being construed as a field of dispersed, contested, and plural rights. Positing this conceptualization of property as immanent in governance and political economy, this essay questions the dominant historiographic consensus that indigenous social forces aborted all attempts of the Company’s government to introduce a coherent property regime.

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Debjani Bhattacharyya

Abstract

The movement of the Hughli River in 1804-5 resulted in the deposition of alluvion along Calcutta’s river banks which unfolded as an ownership crisis for the East India Company. The Company responded by developing new legal categories and administrative language to manage these newly formed lands and thereby fashioning itself as a public agent of Calcutta’s land and landed property. Focusing on specific legal aspects of colonial hydrology that arose in the making of property in these amphibious spaces, the article argues that the soaking ecology of Bengal became a site for productive law-making by creating open-ended possibilities for taking land. It demonstrates how the Company used this new land formation to gradually institute a legal architecture regulating alluvion and dereliction and subsequently subjecting these soaking ecologies to an intricate documentary regime with the aim of disciplining the existing landed property relations in Calcutta. Documenting the haphazard extension and enactment of these new legal doctrines in a mobile landscape illuminates a particular history of the colonial regime of property and the Company-State’s early articulations of a particular type of quasi-eminent domain as a manner of taking land. Pushing a new direction in legal geography, the piece shows how the legal arena became a productive site for geographical knowledge production and legal experimentation in the colony.

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Round Trip to Hades in the Eastern Mediterranean Tradition

Visits to the Underworld from Antiquity to Byzantium

Series:

Edited by Gunnel Ekroth and Ingela Nilsson

Round Trip to Hades in the Eastern Mediterranean Tradition explores how the theme of visiting the Underworld and returning alive has been treated, transmitted and transformed in the ancient Greek and Byzantine traditions. The journey was usually a descent ( katabasis) into a dark and dull place, where forgetfulness and punishment reigned, but since ‘everyone’ was there, it was also a place that offered opportunities to meet people and socialize. Famous Classical round trips to Hades include those undertaken by Odysseus and Aeneas, but this pagan topic also caught the interest of Christian writers. The contributions of the present volume allow the reader to follow the passage from pagan to Christian representations of Hades–a passage that may seem surprisingly effortless.