The Disinherited: Christianity and Conversion in Calcutta in the 19th Century
Jewish, Islamic, and Middle Eastern Studies, Washington University in St. Louis
Wednesday, March 09, 2022
This talk is based on the so-called “Great Tagore Will Case” which created a scandal in Calcutta, the capital city of the British Indian empire, in the mid-19th century. By looking closely at the events that precipitated this legal battle, I trace the evolution of the Lex Loci Act in India. This was a legal dispute regarding inheritance between two of the most influential members of colonial Bengali aristocracy, father and son, and involved properties valued at hundreds of thousands of sterling pounds. Prosonnocoomar Tagore, the first Indian member of the Viceregal Legislative Council, disinherited his son and heir Gyanendramohan Tagore (the first Indian barrister) because of his conversion to Christianity in 1851. Prosonnocoomar left his property to his nephew, Maharaja Jatindramohan Tagore. This was contested by his son, and the case went from the civil court in Calcutta to the Privy Council in London, from 1861 to 1880. It resulted in a tangled web of family lore that included tales of betrayal, generational curses and reincarnation. I analyze this case as a microhistory of the loss of social and moral capital on the part of Indian converts to Christianity.
Dr. Mou Banerjee is assistant professor of history at UW-Madison. She holds a MA and PhD in History from Harvard University. She is a historian of modern South Asia, specializing in the period from 18th to the early 20th century. Her research interests include religion and politics in India, especially on the evolution of the concepts of private faith and public political identity during the 19th and early 20th centuries.