Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

5 - Bequeathing Unto My Faithful Friend: Race, Sexuality and Law in Early Colonial Bengal

Saturday, July 7
12:10 PM - 1:40 PM
Location: Magnolia, Lower Ground Floor

In the court documents of early colonial Bengal, the native concubine in mixed–race households could appear as a ‘housekeeper, slave girl, servant, or washerwoman’, or more intimately, the household head might refer to her as ‘the mother of my child’. Court documents record contention over material possessions, emoluments, ownership rights, sexual faithfulness, or the right of the native concubine to use bequests left to her by will. The language of these wills and other court documents reflects the multi-faceted role of these women, as well as the various kinds of labour provided by them.


In 1797, William Orby Hunter, of Bihar province, and Baugwan Konwar, his native concubine, were on trial for wounding their servants. Baugwan’s attorney argued that she could not come under the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction, being only Hunter’s concubine and not otherwise employed by him. By contrast, Hunter’s advocate held that according to the law of England, concubinage was merely a species of employment. The court sentenced Hunter for not preventing a crime that had taken place in his household.


This paper aims to show the complexity of mixed-race households, where legal documents constructed the person of the native concubine. Disregarding any romanticism about interracial cohabitation, the present study demonstrates how colonial as well as gender relations defined the dynamics of these households.


Ruchika Sharma

University of Delhi, India

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5 - Bequeathing Unto My Faithful Friend: Race, Sexuality and Law in Early Colonial Bengal



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