Know the Indian Legal History – Part One – East India Company Year 1600
A little knowledge, it is said, is a dangerous thing.
Reality Views by sm -
Legal history is not created or made by one person, it is a never ending story.
Legal history is a mirror of society.
If someone wants to understand the nation and the problems faced by the nation one has to look back at the past legal history, what happened in the past?
Someone will say I should write the legal history of last 1000 or more years, but it is not useful for me or anyone, as we do not follow any of those laws.
That is one reason I have to choose one date from which to write the history of Indian Legal system.
Today the present Indian legal system as well as laws which we are using is the gift of East India Company and British king, the rulers of India.
History is very vast, but I will try to cover in short all the important events of Indian legal
History, First I have decided to write about the constitution of India, but then realized that if someone does not know Legal History of India, he will not understand the current situation and problems which India is facing .For all our problems root cause is our laws.
Indian Region has a history of more than 5000 years, but for us Indians real legal history started with the arrival of East India Company in the year 1600.
Before arrival of British, the India was divided into different countries , each king ruled and made laws which he liked and felt are good and right.
As the king died or the king lost the war with neighbor king the rules of that kingdom were changed
Our present judicial system and laws is a gift of British Kings.
Let’s start to understand and know the Legal History of India.
While writing this I will clarify many terms also.
East Indies - refer to nations - India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and also Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Brunei, Singapore, the Philippines, East Timor, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Dutch-held colonies in the area were known as the Dutch East Indies
Spanish-held colonies were known as the Spanish East Indies
Caribbean is called the "West Indies
The east India Company was formed to do business with the East Indies.
East India Company is also known as East India Trading Company, English East India Company then British East India Company.
The oldest among several similarly formed European East India Companies, the Company was granted an English Royal Charter, under the name Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, by Elizabeth I on 31 December 1600
The charter awarded the newly formed company, for a period of fifteen years, a monopoly of trade (known today as a patent) with all countries to the east of the Cape of Good Hope and to the west of the Straits of Magellan. Sir James Lancaster commanded the first East India Company voyage in 1601
As per this charter no other company was allowed to do business with this geographic area with out the permission and license from the company.
The charter awarded the judicial powers to the company to make laws, to punish servants etc so that the functioning of company does not stop and company does not face losses.
The company was not allowed to make any laws which may go against the English laws or customs. The company was supposed to work in democratic manner.
During this time company aim was to do business and make profits, charter does not mention about the war and controlling other nations or lands.
This is the beginning, development of Indian legislative system.
For Indians this phase is very important as this is beginning of formation of India as well as our legal system.
The charter gave the legislative power to the company; company found that the limited powers were useless on the long voyages to control servants and maintain law and order on ships.
To solve this problem company invoked the crowns prerogative and the commander in chief got the power to give death punishment to servants by using the law of martial.
On 24th January 1601 Queen Elizabeth gave first time this right to commander in chief.
Using this power first time on 28th Feb. 1616 at Surat Port, person named as Gregory killed an Englishman and commander in chief gave his death sentence.
PREROGATIVE – meaning in English law. The royal prerogative is an arbitrary power vested in the executive to do good and not evil.
With the charter of 1600 the company landed at the Surat Port during the Jehangirs reign to do business of Import and Export between the East Indies and England.
Before the arrival of East India Company in Surat, the Portuguese already established their business at Surat.
After arrival of East India Company at Surat, the company and Portuguese fought with each other and in the year 1612 the company won and established their first factory at Surat with the permission of the local Moghul Governor.
Factory was a place where company employees stayed, a big warehouse for storage of goods and different offices.
The company was running its business democratic way and as per the powers given to them by the charter.
Later company realized that to establish there business at Surat permanently they need permanent trading facilities directly from the Moghul Emperor, with this view in the year
1915, James I sent an ambassador, Sir Thomas Roe to the Moghul Emperor and the Emperor issued the FARMAN OR FIRMAN , grating certain facilities powers to the company, Englishmen. Like they were allowed to hire a place and established the factory.
All the fights between Englishmen were solved by the company head the head was known as Governor or President.
In the year 1687, the seat or office of the President was transferred to Bombay, and slowly Surat lost its importance.
Later in future Madras, Calcutta and Bombay came to known as the Presidency Towns and the territories around these towns were known as Mofussil.
mofussil areas: - n. [Urdu] outlying districts, away from urban areas or big city centres
Surat Factory and administration –
The factory got the administrative as well as judicial set up.
The president and counsil were appointed by the company who hold the administrative power.
All decisions in the council meeting were taken by a majority of votes.
The president got one vote only and no right to overrule the members.
Its very interesting to know that this time at Surat there was no special law, or territory laws were present neither laws regarding succession, marriage or divorce or inheritance,
all the laws were derived from religion ,
for Muslim their own laws ,
for Hindus their own laws, etc.
But regarding criminal matters only Muslim law was followed.
There was no uniform law among the people.
Englishmen got permission from the Moghul Emperor that they should be allowed to follow their own laws inside their factory and on their own people which they got.
This way from the beginning Englishmen here in East Indies, surat followed their own british laws.
As per Moghul orders the fights between local people and English people came under local jurisdiction, tribunals at Surat.
That time local justice system was corrupt and who got the more money won the case. But Englishmen rarely went to local courts; they themselves administered all justice at Surat.
End of Part One.
Suggested Reading -
Know the Indian Legal History – Part Two
30 January 2010
Know the Indian Legal History – Part One – East India Company Year 1600