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The “Criminal Tribe” and Independence: Partition, Decolonisation, and the State in India's Punjab, 1910s-1980s

Gandee, Sarah Eleanor (2018) The “Criminal Tribe” and Independence: Partition, Decolonisation, and the State in India's Punjab, 1910s-1980s. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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On 14-15 August 1947, India obtained freedom from British colonial rule. For the so-called ‘criminal tribes’, however, freedom did not come at the midnight hour but five years later, on 31 August 1952, when the Government of India repealed the Criminal Tribes Act. Enacted by the colonial government in 1871, this draconian legislation sought to control a disparate set of supposedly criminal communities (and later gangs and individuals) through a raft of punitive and surveillance measures. This study examines the postcolonial afterlives of the ‘criminal tribe’ in the region of Punjab. Specifically, it traces the ways in which the postcolonial state re-embedded this ostensibly colonial category of identification in its legislative, discursive and material practices, at the same time as it dismantled the Act itself. The study is primarily situated in the 1940s and 1950s, as Partition and decolonisation wrought enormous changes upon the subcontinent. It argues that state actors, whether politicians, bureaucrats or local officers, infused the ‘criminal tribe’ with heightened salience in the years after 1947 in response to the exigencies of independence and nation-building. Its findings reveal that the ‘criminal tribe’ remained a tangible and intelligible category for the postcolonial state long after its legal abolition, whether in the refugee regime, legal structures and penal practices, or welfare policies for disadvantaged citizens. This sheds light on a hitherto overlooked period of the Criminal Tribes Act, namely the early post-independence years. It examines the continued relevance of the ‘criminal tribe’ within postcolonial statecraft not as an inevitable colonial hangover but the product of more contested lineages and developments rooted both pre- and post-1947. This also offers new insights onto the state at this critical juncture. In contrast to the existing scholarship on the Act, which emphasises its unwavering dominance, this study illustrates the uncertainties, contingencies, and tensions of the late colonial and decolonising state.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: "criminal tribe"; India; South Asia; crime; criminality; decolonisation; Partition; colonial; postcolonial; law; state
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds)
The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of History (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.766392
Depositing User: Miss S E Gandee
Date Deposited: 28 Jan 2019 10:59
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2020 10:53
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/22408

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