A Suitable Boy: The Abolition of Feudalism in India
18 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2008
This article focuses on law and literature as a challenging tool in teaching courses in comparative law. Certain representative novels may provide important analytical instruments, especially in approaching legal systems that do not belong to the Western legal tradition but that involve a set of values profoundly rooted in a specific conception of society. In these instances, literature is used as a key in understanding the social impact of particular legal institutions, the nature of which seems difficult for European scholars to comprehend. This is particularly true in cases such as those in India, where the legal system is composed of different layers: the traditional, the religious and that of the colonial period.
The article examines a concrete literary example offered by Vikram Seth in his novel A Suitable Boy, in which the author deals with the debate about peasants property in the form of land and about the abolition of the zamindari system, which had been introduced in India by the Mughals to collect land taxes from the peasants. It was continued by British rulers during the colonial period, but after independence in 1947 the system was abolished and the land was turned over to the peasants. To Westerners, the abolition of the zamindari system would seem to have been a sign of real independence and of the will to abolish feudalism. Nevertheless, the abrogation did not prevent the emergence of farm suicides in India, which have occurred since the middle of the 1990s.
Seth's novel allows us to witness firsthand the events that took place during the period when the law that put an end to the zamindari system was passed and to see with new eyes the genuine impact of such a reform.
Keywords: law, literature, tool, comparative law, teaching
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation