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In Session: Views on Colonialism in South Asia
Deciding Who's Naughty and Who's Nice: Policing and Governance in Colonial India and the British Empire, 1850-1950
Monday, March 22, 2021
3:00pm – 4:30pm EDT
Tufts University, United States
Baton charges, rubber bullets, water cannons, and volleys of tear gas are familiar etchings of police brutality. These flashes of violence undulate across time and space, from the colonial to the postcolonial sphere, subsuming the world in a vicious embrace. News headlines from India to Hong Kong testify to this brutal legacy of colonial rule. Faced with this vicious anthology, it is tempting to reduce the police to a tool of law enforcement. However, I investigate policing as governance on the ground or at the level of the beat, the territory a police officer patrolled. This paper sheds light on the daily making and re-making of the bodies of the colonized and the colonizers through encounters of the patrol and technologies of surveillance and discipline. Specifically, I discuss the development in the 1850s of kot (village) settlements in colonial Punjab - a new carceral-scape that combined social control, reform, and collective punishment to confine nomadic tribes and others who did not conform to colonially sanctioned ways of living, branded as criminal objects, within artificial villages. The police were the ‘visible’ hand of the colonial regime crucial in giving meaning to an imperial taxonomy of good subjects/criminal objects by enumerating and generating these ‘criminal’ tribes for settlement in kots. The laws and policing technologies developed under the auspices of the police in India were then transposed to Kenya and elsewhere throughout the British Empire generating a shared legacy of a fractured subject-objecthood which continues to manifest itself in post-colonial lives globally.