Any discussion of Hindu law in the 19th and 20th centuries has first to refer to the often quoted paragraph from the plan which the Committee of Circuit, with Warren Hastings as its president, drew up on August 15, 1772, and which was adopted by the President and Council at Fort William on August 21 of the same year:
That in all Suits regarding Inheritance, Marriage, Caste and other religious Usages or Institutions, the Laws of Koran with respect to Mahometans and those of the Shaster with respect to Gentoos shall be invariably adhered to (Forrest, ed. 1910: 295–6).
We might be tempted, two hundred years after these words were written, to consider the decision of the Committee of Circuit as the sole possible and normal course of action. In reality, “the decision was far-sighted policy —not a matter of course” (Rankin 1946: 4), and it was adopted against considerable opposition.
There is no doubt that some of the early British magistrates, who were eager to implement the decision of the Committee, were motivated by highly humanitarian principles.