Warren Hastings ‘Judicial Plan’

Warren Hastings was appointed as Governor General of Bengal in April 1772, was asked to execute the company’s decision and come up with a ‘Judicial Plan’. He instituted a series of reforms designed to rationalize the legal system that the East India Company had taken over. His objective later was to plan an arrangement to provide justice to the Indian litigants close to their own customs, religion, in matters of person and property. By August 1772, Warren Hastings had submitted his ‘Judicial Plan of 1772’. It declared that ‘in all suits regarding inheritance, marriage, caste, and other religious usages, or institutions, the laws of the Shastra with respect to Gentoos shall be invariably adhered to’. Hastings created separate courts for civil and criminal matters, in which the British presided over the first followed by the Mughals. He believed that good governance in Bengal could be achieved through the continued use of Indian customary law, which was an arrangement that was both practical and ideological.

The civil courts were organized to administer Hindu law to Hindus, and Muslim law to Muslims, while the criminal court applied Muslim law only. Warren Hastings wanted to establish the authority of the East India Company on the ancient laws of Bengal. While being responsible for British administration, he put the British in a position of dependency on the local pundits who had access to the secret sources of the law and its interpretation. With the paranoia characteristic of the uncertain colonizer, the British distrusted the pundits, felt that they were manipulated by them and disliked being effectively caught in the power of the native’s ‘sly civility’. Hastings therefore commissioned translations of local Hindu and Muslim legal writings, as well as compilations of digests of local laws. The first product of his initiative was Nathaniel Halhed’s A Code of Gentoo [i.e. Hindu] Laws, or, Ordinations of the Pundits, from a Persian translation, made from the original, written in the Sanskrit language.

Blog by Kushala Simha

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