Judiciary and Social Change in British Malabar 1792-1940, Tellicherry 2012

A unique legacy of the British rule in India was the establishment of a strong Judiciary with high traditions of independence and fairness, matured through a strange amalgam of local, oral and customary laws and the British Rule of Law. British rule of law, the remarkable outcome of the nation’s legal experiments through centuries with insistence on respect to the ordinary law of the land, equality before law and the underlying broad and just principle of justice, equity and good conscience, found its way to India in the I 780s and started working in harmony with the customary laws of the country. The book focuses on the historical role played by the Judiciary in the complete recasting of an extremely custom- oriented, conservative, almost stagnant Malabar society into one well-suited to the modern standards of life.

Malabar, the northern districts of Kerala in peninsular India, came in the possession of the English East India Company in 1792 in the course of the Anglo-Mysore wars and put under the Madras Presidency in 1800 for purposes of the administration of justice. What handicapped the Judiciary in the case of Malabar was the absence of a written authority for a proper understanding of the customary laws of the region. But the fact that the people of Malabar were so extremely attached to their customs, that many of them became almost institutionalized due to centuries of unbroken observance, that the oral tradition was as powerful as any modern written law became a useful guide. This, added to the dedicated effort of the judicial veterans, helped in bringing the customary laws of the region within an effective legal framework designated as ‘Malabar Law’. More important, the innumerable exhaustive judgements on ‘Malabar Law’ are real history, the first recorded history on Malabar in its applied aspect. Malabar Judgements not only succeeded in telling the people what their customs were, but in reminding them of the inevitability to bid farewell to many of their outmoded customs which were no more capable of standing the test of time.