Early colonial period has been subjected to a multitude of case studies, focusing upon the interaction between the indigenous colonized spaces and the evolving, interventionist and the homogenizing colonial state. Ramachandra Guha’s and Madhav Gadgil’s publication, This Fissured Land, opened the vista for many more works on a similar trajectory to follow. The present work, initially published in 2008, with Permanent Black, is an important intervention in similar scholarship, exploring the varied reception and consequent evolution of ‘colonial law’, about land and ownership as it was applied in the forested regions of Nilgiri Hills, between the 1790s and 1840s.
The transposing of European construction of legality and private ownership over spaces far removed, such as one encountered in the Nilgiri Hills by the English company officials, presents an interesting picture of the intricate interaction between the colonizer and colonized. The process and the consequent impact of the interaction over shaping of both the agencies and their agents has been revisited by Gunnel Cederlof in her work, Landscapes and the Law, a decade after its first publication in 2008. In the period in between, Cederlof has written exhaustively on shaping of the colonial experience across wide spaces in South Asia, separated by distance and geography, although connected through the networks of English colonial state in the 19th century. In its second edition, the work reasserts the fractured colonial experience of the early colonial state and the indigenous communities which interacted with the colonial state. Tracing the evolution of legal modes and modern law in its various avatars, experienced by South Asian, non-European experience, the author has attempted to write an ‘environmental history’ of modern law.
The work takes a multi-layered approach to the question of framing of legal experience/frames across the vast South Asian space. Situating the Nilgiri Hills within this South Asian conundrum of regions, which saw first vicissitudes of State formation, with the arrival of the East India company and the enactment of formal laws and rules, the author in the various sections of the book has tried to engage with the vast historiography of colonial law and legal structures, at the same time, also, highlighting the unique experience of Nilgiri in the late 18th and early 19th century construction of the British Empire.
Besides a new preface to the second edition, the work is organized in six sub-sections: 1. Histories of Rights in Nature: An Introduction; 2. A Narrative on Toda and its Problems; 3. Negotiating Law; 4. Perceptions of Land and People; 5. Local Politics and Regional Confrontations; 6. Towards an Environmental History of Law. The preface attempts to focus on some of the central questions raised a decade back, while at the same time, attempts to re-engage with newer perceptions and researches conducted in ethnographic/anthropological/historical fields of enquiry, on South Asian tribes, and their lived spaces. Nested away from the main civilizational zones of South Asia, the Nilgiri Hills and their indigenous Toda tribes, provided exciting ground for Cederlof to locate, understand and chalk the evolution of modern legal structures and those of colonial control, over such distant spaces.