This book explores the legal culture of the Parsis, or Zoroastrians, an
ethnoreligious community unusually invested in the colonial legal system
of British India and Burma. Rather than trying to maintain collective
autonomy and integrity by avoiding interaction with the state, the Parsis
sank deep into the colonial legal system itself. From the late eighteenth
century until India’s independence in 1947, they became heavy users of
colonial law, acting as lawyers, judges, litigants, lobbyists, and legislators.
They de-Anglicized the law that governed them and enshrined in
law their own distinctive models of the family and community by two
routes: frequent intragroup litigation often managed by Parsi legal professionals
in the areas of marriage, inheritance, religious trusts, and libel,
and the creation of legislation that would become Parsi personal law.
Other South Asian communities also turned to law, but none seems to
have done so earlier or in more pronounced ways than the Parsis.
Mitra Sharafi is an associate professor of Law and Legal Studies at the
University of Wisconsin–Madison, with an affiliation appointment in
History. Her work has appeared in a variety of scholarly journals and
has been recognized by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National
Science Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council.
Law and Identity in Colonial South Asia won the Law and Society Association’s 2015 J. Willard Hurst Award for best book in socio-legal history.