Mahzar-namas in the Mughal and British Empires: The Uses of an Indo-Islamic Legal Form
Comparative Studies in Society and History: an international quarterly
Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Copyright © Society for the Comparative Study of Society and History 2016.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Cambridge University Press via the DOI in this record
This paper looks at a Persian-language documentary form called the mahzar-nama that was widely used in India between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries to narrate, represent, and record antecedents, entitlements, and injuries with a view to securing legal rights and redressing legal wrongs. Mahzars were a known documentary form in Islamic law and used by qazis (Islamic judges) in many other parts of the world, but in India they took a number of distinctive forms. The specific form of Indian mahzar-namas that I focus on here was, broadly speaking, a legal document of testimony, narrated in the first person, in a form standardized by predominantly non-Muslim scribes, endorsed in writing by the author’s fellow community members and/or professional or social contacts, and notarized by a qazi’s seal. This specific legal form was part of a much broader genre of declarative texts that were also known as mahzars in India. I examine the legal mahzar-namas together with the other kinds of mahzars, and situate them in relation to Indo-Islamic jurisprudential texts and Persian-language formularies. What emerges is a distinctive Indo-Islamic legal culture in contact with the wider Islamic and Persianate worlds of jurisprudence and documentary culture, but responsive to the unique socio-political formations of early modern India. I also reflect on the meanings of law, including Islamic law, for South Asians and trace the evolution of that understanding across the historical transition to colonialism.
The basic research for this article was enabled by a grant from the International Placement Scheme of the AHRC, UK.
Comparative Studies in Society and History, 2016, Volume 58, Issue 2, pp 379-406