Mitra Sharafi

Parsi Legal Culture in British India

This talk explores the unusual and strategic use of law by one ethnoreligious minority in colonial South Asia. I use the example of the Parsis, who were Persian migrants to India and followers of Zoroastrianism, to show how one ethnoreligious community gained, rather than lost, cultural autonomy through its heavy use of colonial law. As lobbyists, legislators, lawyers, judges, jurists and litigants, Parsis worked from within and through the colonial state, rather than from outside or against it, to de-Anglicize the
law that applied to them. By the end of British rule in 1947, Parsi law consisted of distinctive legal institutions and substantive law, all of which came about through Parsi-led initiatives and professional opportunities exploited by Parsis, as well as a steady traffic of intra-group litigation. Through the adoption of the colonizer’s legal ways, Parsis came to control that law that governed them.

Mitra Sharafi studies the history of law in colonial India. She holds two UK law degrees and a doctorate in history. At the UW Law School, she teaches Contracts I to first-year law students. She is also part of UW’s Legal Studies program, an interdisciplinary undergraduate major that combines law with the humanities and social sciences. Sharafi teaches two Legal Studies courses: “Legal Pluralism” and “Law and Colonialism.” Sharafi is affiliated with the History Department and is involved with the UW Center for South Asia.

Co-sponsored by the Global Legal Studies Center and South Asia Legal
Studies Working Group