Between Law and Enforcement: Criminal Laws, Colonial Subjectivity, and the Postcolonial State

Nandini Dey, University of Michigan

How did colonial legal regimes shape the boundaries of citizenship in the colonies? How did imperial understandings of race and racialized divisions inform the construction of these laws? What are the legacies of such legal regimes for citizenship in the postcolonial era? In this paper, I aim to tackle these questions by examining the construction and use of criminal and policing laws in colonial British India. Scholarship on colonial policing tells us that these legislations were not simply intended to control or reduce crime, but rather they were a means of transforming populations seen as ‘unproductive’ into productive and law-abiding colonial subjects. I analyse penal and criminal legislation employed in British India in the aftermath of the Great War which was followed with repressive legislation to target communists and anticolonial activists. The passage of these laws armed the colonial state with increased capacities and justification to surveil, arrest, or detain British Indian subjects. As the freedom struggle in India grew ever larger, the legal regime grew in tandem to enable the violence meted out by the British against their colonial subjects. I analyse archival documents collected from the India Office Records as well as available digital documents, minutes, reports, and other correspondence to trace how the colonial state designed these laws. Racialized notions of identity were critical in this endeavour. I also trace how these practices of inclusion and exclusion by targeting through different laws laid the groundwork for inclusion and exclusion through citizenship after independence. This examination reveals how colonial state-consolidation practices were employed in practices of state-making and nation-building after independence. Analysis of the Indian subcontinent under the British empire allows us to bring a non-Western case to bear on questions of citizenship and belonging and also trace historical and (post/)colonial shifts in our understanding of citizenship.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 38. Enforcing Boundaries of Belonging in the (Post)Colonial State