News & Events

Faculty Seminar | From Colony to Sovereign: Understanding India’s Pre-Independence Legal Personality


Conference Hall, Ground Floor, Training Centre
(Open to the NLS Community only)



Wednesday, April 17, 2024, 4:00 pm

NLS faculty Dr. Akhila Basalalli will present a paper titled “From Colony to Sovereign: Understanding India’s Pre-Independence Legal Personality”. Prof. Kamala Sankaran will be the discussant.


India’s engagements with international law and organizations predates its independence. Rewarding the participation in the First World War, the Imperial War Conference of 1917 declared that the Dominions (Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand) including India, should have autonomous status and representation in foreign affairs. However, India was not granted dominion status and was only acknowledged with a foreign voice. Treaties were concluded on behalf of India by British representatives and Indian representatives, mostly Maharajas of native states during the period 1919-1947. The paper argues that India without dominion status was not a self-governing territory and its capacity to enter into international obligations and membership in international organisations is an irregularity. India continued the international legal personality of British India becoming a party to 627 treaties and member of 51 international organizations by the time of independence. The paper emphasizes the importance tabula rasa for newly formed states and draws attention to the Nyerere Doctrine adopted by Eastern African States, where colonial treaties were only binding upon the new state if they were formally accepted within a specific timeframe. The India Independence Act of 1947 bound India to its past treaties, as the succession of dominions from British India was seen as secession rather than dismemberment. This continuity of legal personality was further validated by the United Nations.