Imperial legacies and southern penal spaces: A study of hunting nomads in postcolonial India

AuthorMark Brown,Vikas Keshav Jadhav,Vijay Raghavan,Mayank Sinha
Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
Subject MatterSpecial Issue: Legacies of Empire
Imperial legacies and
southern penal spaces: A
study of hunting nomads in
postcolonial India
Mark Brown
School of Law, University of Shefeld, UK
Vikas Keshav Jadhav
Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences,
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
Vijay Raghavan
Centre for Criminology and Justice, School of Social Work, Tata
Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India
Mayank Sinha
TANDA, Centre for Criminology and Justice, School of Social
Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India
Southern penal spaces are marked by resemblances and afnities with colonial regimes
of control, yet they also reect quite distinctive postcolonial social and political dynamics
found in the global south. Here, legacies of control, forms of exile, status reductions,
hierarchical social stratications and other like forms come together in robust modes
of containment suitable for managing marginaland suspectpopulations. We draw
on ethnographic empirical work with two hunting nomadic groups in India by two of
the co-authors who are working with the Kheria Sabar community in Purulia district
in West Bengal and Pardhi community in Mumbai. The latter were subject to notication
under the notorious Criminal Tribes Act 1871, marking them out as criminal tribes
until their de-notication shortly after Indias independence in 1947, yet the Kheria
Corresponding author:
Mark Brown, School of Law, University of Shefeld, Bartolome House, Winter St, Shefeld, S3 71D, UK, and
School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia.
Special Issue: Legacies of Empire
Punishment & Society
2021, Vol. 23(5) 675696
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/14624745211054393
Sabars too feel its effects. We draw attention here to the continual negotiation and (re)
fabrication of both state and citizen at the point of their everyday contact. Our notion of
southern penal spaces contributes to penal theory by breaking from northern societies
focus on institutional carcerality and capturing instead both the variety and the dispersal
of penal and punitive practices found in postcolonial societies of the south.
Postcolonial penality, India, southern penal spaces, global South, denotied and nomadic
tribes, criminal tribes, Criminal Tribes Act 1871, hunting nomads, urban nomadism,
carceral spaces
Recent years have witnessed new interest among criminologists to understand penal prac-
tices in countries of the global south. In an attempt to distinguish the special character of
punishment there and to recognise the long and complex colonial inheritance shaping
systems of law, governance and the social orders of the south, it has been suggested
we should seek to understand and theorise their distinctively postcolonial penalities
(Brown, 2017). Other scholars have drawn renewed attention (cf. Cohen, 1988;
Sumner, 1982) to northsouth penal transfers (Stambøl, 2021) and in doing so have
coined terms such as penal humanitarianism(Bosworth, 2017; Lohne, 2020) or
penal aid(Brisson-Boivin and OConnor, 2013) and spoken of the ‘“the asco of the
prisonin a global context(Drake, 2018: 1). In this special issue on Legacies of
Empire, we write as a team of three southern scholars and one northern, aiming to
advance criminological work not on penal transfers but on legacies, inheritances and
forms of penal power in the contemporary postcolony. Our area of focus is colonial
and postcolonial India and our particular target is the colonial birth and postcolonial
life of a diverse set of penal practices directed toward people who from 1871 until
after Indian independence in 1947 were legislatively designated as criminal tribes: crim-
inality, in other words, as birth right, as inheritance, as mark, or as has sometimes been
observed, as stain.
The colonial criminal tribes policy itself has attracted increasing interest over the last
three or four decades leading to a small specialist literature principally turning on ques-
tions of historiographic importance (see generally, Major, 1999; Piliavsky, 2015;
Radhakrishna, 2001; Studies in History, 2020; Yang, 1985). Our interest is somewhat dif-
ferent. To describe it, we rst briey describe two studies that provide our point of depart-
ure and set the context for this work. We then lay out our intended contribution and the
plan of the paper. Our effort to connect a period of colonial rule in India that began in
1765 with contemporary life in 2021 builds on two previous works on the criminal
tribes policy by one of us. The rst (Brown, 2014) traced an arc from the enactment in
June 1772 by Governor General Warren Hastings of Article 35 (a Bengal regulation
directed toward dacoits violent gang robbers and their families), to the passage
676 Punishment & Society 23(5)

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