privacy policy

The Wrath of a Woman: Curses as Injunctions in Indo-Persian Legal Documents


· Nandini Chatterjee University of Exeter (Exeter, United Kingdom)


07/28 | 15:50-16:10 UTC+2/CEST


In pre-modern South Asia, the legal orders frequently combined the threat of physical and material sanctions with those that were societal, ritual and supernatural. Persian and bilingual inscriptions on stone recording land grants, for example, often threaten loss of religious and social status, and gendered injuries to family honour to transgressors, indicating a cosmology with a wider field of significant and definite cause and effect. This paper investigates a Persian language deed of gift, in which a Hindu woman in a landed family in Mughal Malwa in the late seventeenth century recorded the transfer of certain villages in her possession to her nephews. The document, which was sealed by a qazi or Islamic judge, mimicked royal and noble orders by purporting to appoint younger male relatives to the ‘service/office of children’. It also appended a threat to those that would dare to encroach upon that property and its title, saying ‘On the day of Judgement, I will seize their skirt!’ This dramatic and individuated curse, with its possible invocation of the sirat al-mustaqim, the narrow and slippery bridge that Muslim souls must cross in order to enter paradise, allows us an opening for considering concepts of filial duty, women’s property-holding practices and notions of righteousness in Persianate Mughal India.