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Rajpootana and Punjab responded very differently to the government response. If the Rajpootana
experiment was successful, the Punjab experiment was a failure.
Apart from the question of criminal tribes, Brown also discusses the colonial government’s
policy on the use of ‘sovereign power’ in the form of whipping and canon to punish criminals.
Brown argues that the sovereign power was enfolded ‘within structures of law’ (168), which
limited its excessive and arbitrary use. On the other hand, by the early twentieth century, the
criminal tribes policy had become ‘increasingly normalized’, and it became even more repressive.
At the same time, the government recognized the importance of civil society organizations, like
the Salvation Army, in the reform of criminal tribes. By this time governmental understanding
about criminal tribes had shifted from ‘ethnological subjects’ to ‘economic subjects’. Brown,
therefore, shows that there was polyvalence within colonial governmentality, and it lacked a linear
narrative from ‘domination to one upon freedom’ (194).
The framework of the book, in certain respects, is problematic. The book seems to argue that the
colonial state determined the political terrain in which the colonized produced their responses. As a
result, the colonial state appears to be the central axis around which the histories of the colonized
revolve. The history of the colonized becomes merely a ‘case’. Although the history of the colonized
misleadingly appears to be the subject of the book because of the photograph of criminal tribes on the
cover of this book, in reality, the author is rather more interested in the history of the colonial state
and its policies. The book, at times, is also difficult to follow, when the author grapples with complex
theories and ideas. Besides, repeated signposting of the argument could have been avoided.
The reader will evaluate the book on the basis of her own inclination towards theory and empirical
research. But to the reviewer, the value of the book appears to lie in the chapters which bring forth
hitherto unknown data on the history of criminal tribes, though the theoretical contribution is also
noteworthy. On the whole, the work is original, important, and interesting. It should not be missed by
the students of colonial state, criminology, and governance.

Gagan Preet Singh


Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India
gaganjnu@gmail.com
© 2015, Gagan Preet Singh
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19472498.2015.1109307

Crime through time, edited by Saurabh Dube and Anupama Rao, New Delhi, Oxford University
Press, 2013, 424 pp., Rs. 850 (hardback), ISBN-13: 978-0-19-807761-9/ISBN-10: 0-19-807761-0

A set of 22 influential essays in the history of crime has been weaved together with an
insightful introduction by Saurabh Dube and Anupama Rao in this new volume Crime
through Time. The historiography of crime, as demonstrated in this collection, has evolved
through close and sometimes inseparable associations with major interventions in the
history of law, studies in the nature of the state and its varied relations with society,
especially marginalized social groups such as dalits, religious minorities and women.
These complex and multiple imbrications at various levels make an attempt to compile a
comprehensive, or even representative, volume on the ‘history of crime’ a rather daunting
task, which the present collection accomplishes rather admirably.
The basic scheme of classification is chronological. Divided into five parts, the book begins
with a section on the precolonial period and ends with one on postcolonial themes, with three
sections in the middle dedicated to the colonial period. Each section brings together extracts of
essays that have attained the status of classics as well as newer historiographical interventions.
88 BOOK REVIEWS

One of the themes that draw our attention is the history of dacoity, arguably the crime
par excellence, to which it has dedicated three entire essays across the precolonial, colonial
and postcolonial sections. The oldest piece on the theme is an extract from Ranajit Guha’s
masterpiece ‘Elementary aspects’ that radically positions dacoity squarely as resistance to
chronic poverty, and as a direct response to social and epistemic violence. 1 He demonstrates
that even the colonial state drew a direct correlation between dacoity and economic hard-
ship, to the extent that police reports on crime would typically start with descriptions of
rainfall and food prices. Famines, droughts, price rise, landlessness – all combined to make
dacoity the only livelihood option available to vast numbers of the rural poor across British
India. Colonial legislations such as the Criminal Tribes Act, on the other hand, foreclosed
all possibilities for these communities to return to ‘lawful’ professions. Malavika Kasturi, on
the other hand, foregrounds cultural dispositions such as notions of honour and local status
in understanding Rajput dacoity. Though she does not deny that poverty may have driven
the rank-and-file members of the dacoit gangs to brigandage, she maintains that leadership
often belonged to elite Rajput lineages and biradaris (brotherhoods) who indulged in out-
lawry for maintaining their local dominance, preserving their sense of honour and fulfilling
other agendas that cannot be entirely reduced to a mere manifestation of declining fortunes
of traditional elites under colonial conditions. Finally, Rajeswari Sunder Rajan brings back
the question of dacoity in postcolonial India with somewhat different concerns. Examining
the 1983 ‘surrender’ of Phulan Devi to the police, the legendary woman dacoit who led her
own gang, Rajan opens up the event as a fertile ground for unpacking the contracts that
remain ‘naturalized in citizenship’, the transactions that are entailed in claiming ‘entry into
a novel territory of citizen-identity’ (210). Through a critical engagement with various
frameworks through which dacoity has been understood, she reminds us of the irony that
outlawry is not just a simple result of deprivation, but may, at certain conjunctures,
empower the deprived in making claims for rehabilitation through acceptance of the
terms of national citizenship.
Studies on crime necessarily foreground the question of law, and there are several insightful
essays that tackle a range of important issues at stake. Essays on banditry outlined above have
reflected on how dacoity was often understood in official discourses as entirely determined by
community cultures where members were socialized into criminality from birth, thereby desig-
nating entire communities as intrinsically criminal. Radhika Singha’s essay attempts to explicate
the impulses that led to criminalizing one such community called the Thugs. Studying the making
of the Thuggee Acts of 1830s and 1840s, she underlines the contradictory tendency within colonial
law-making which placed a premium on precision and exactness in judicial administration, while
at the same time accommodating sweeping generalizations that legislations like the Thuggee Act
represented. Her concern is with the impulses behind the making of the Act itself and she links
the quest for paramountcy, increased stake of the Company in ensuring safe traffic with new
channels of commerce opening up and anxieties around mobile and peripatetic cultures, to the
framing of such draconian militaristic legislations that openly flouted notions of the ‘rule of law’
claimed as the basis of British jurisprudence in India. Sanjay Nigam’s intervention takes these
insights further in his study of the Criminal Tribes Act between 1871 and 1895. He explores a
range of disciplinary regimes that cropped up around these legislations for governing the lives of
‘criminal tribes’, which also marked a significant departure from the crude combination of legal
and military techniques that characterized earlier attempts at stigmatizing communities with
habitual criminality. However, as also noted by Anand Yang’s essay on the introduction of
‘messing system’ in the Bihar jails during the 1840s, implementation of reform-centric disciplinary
techniques, inspired by new metropolitan ideas of penology, remained highly selective in the
colony. Yang shows how deterrence remained the basis of penal practices in India, and cultural
and caste norms were deliberately flouted precisely to make jail experience horrifying enough for
it to be a deterrent to crime. On the one hand, the harshness of prison life gave jail experiences a
SOUTH ASIAN HISTORY AND CULTURE 89

special place in the self-representations of the lives of middle-class political prisoners, to the
extent, as Arnold shows, that these gave birth to a new autobiographical genre in South Asian
literature. On the other hand, Yang describes how assaults upon caste and community norms
were vigorously resented by the prisoners and protests spilled over the prison walls, especially in
cases where most of the jail inmates were upper-caste landed elites. This solidarity that bridged
the gap between the jail and the locality, Yang argues, points to an interesting discontinuity
between popular notions of justice and colonial law, as high-caste men of honour were not
perceived as criminals by local communities, especially when crimes involved land disputes.
Some of these concerns find greater elaboration in other essays, notably the one by Saurabh Dube.
He identifies a fundamental disjuncture between notions and expectations of justice held by village
communities and the concerns of colonial jurisprudence. Through a close reading of court records of a
village dispute involving the Satnami community (which also involved a murder), Dube unravels a
complex history of power relations in rural Chhattisgarh, the functioning of and challenges to local
authority and institutions of dispute resolution, and its imbrications with colonial legal structures. He
shows how an incident that meant nothing more than purely (and singularly) a trial for murder in a
colonial law court actually had very different implications for the contending parties, where the issue
at stake was not merely the murder of an individual but the entire ordering of community, gender,
kinship and neighbourhood relations within and across villages in the locality. Dube identifies the
problem with the very structural and discursive framing of judicial cases in colonial jurisprudence, and
this must be acknowledged as foundational to the very process through which colonial law rooted
itself in Indian society, as demonstrated by Scott Alan Kugle’s essay on Anglo-Muhammadan law.
While retaining the façade of Islamic law, colonial jurisprudence completely emptied it of all its basic
principles and fundamental assumptions and replaced it with a completely new ethos, which made
legal administration in Company courts a different ‘experience’ altogether. Kugle explains, ‘. . .the
procedures of Anglo-Muhammadan law changed the criteria for punishment from questions of
situation to questions of intention’ (55) and this inability of colonial law to take due cognizance of
contexts beyond narrow individuated questions of intent and particularities is precisely what Dube
seeks to highlight as well. But how did it change with the demise of empire and with the rise of the
nation state with its own regimes of law and justice? This may be seen as a major concern of Anupama
Rao’s essay where she examines how the district administration and the law courts handled the
murder of a Dalit kotwal named Sawane, who was killed on the footsteps of a Hanuman Mandir in
rural Maharashtra in 1991. There was abundant evidence of Sawane’s death being caused by local
tensions generated by deep-rooted caste prejudice and challenges to upper caste dominance posed by
increasing Dalit assertion. There were also enough legal provisions to take cognizance of the political
nature of the crime on the basis of Dalit anti-atrocity legislations. However, the procedural part of the
judicial mechanism found it impossible to translate this cognizance into modes of redress that could
accommodate the collective nature of the crime within or alongside its usual individuated vision.
A point constantly harped upon by many of the essays is the complicity of colonialism
with maintaining, even strengthening, existing hierarchies and power structures within
colonial society. In the everyday functioning of the local state, as demonstrated in
Rajnarayan Chandavarkar’s essay on police, colonial power had a vested interest in preser-
ving informal networks and relations of social dominance in the neighbourhoods. The
experience of police power itself was contingent upon one’s location within the social
hierarchy of the locality. Similarly, despite the rhetoric of rule of law and equality before
law, colonialism’s collusion with structures of dominance was undeniable. The vast majority
of the communities stigmatized with criminality were invariably among the poorest sections
of colonial society. Malavika Kasturi points out that Rajput dacoits escaped being classified
as Criminal Tribes precisely because of their respectable class and caste status. Padma
Anagol, studying how the Infanticide Act of 1870 singled out mothers as sole perpetrators
of infanticide, unpacks the patriarchal biases inherent in supposedly impersonal laws that
were specifically geared towards victimizing vulnerable women while keeping the actual male
90 BOOK REVIEWS

offenders out of its purview. Similarly, Dube insists that the discursive framing of criminal
cases themselves reveal the ‘overwhelming patriarchy’ of colonial law, which was quite
compatible with ‘indigenous patriarchy’ and complicit in the structural silencing of female
voices. Women remained voiceless unless they ‘decisively stole the stage from men’ (201).
This remained true in postcolonial India. When women did force the independent Indian
state to recognize their presence, as did Phulan Devi through her rather successful outlaw
career and her subsequent surrender, their gender fundamentally structured their interac-
tions with the (male, patriarchal) state. And finally, when this state apparatus was ‘pene-
trated’ by the communal fascists in a populist electoral democracy, Tanika Sarkar’s powerful
piece describes how it unleashed unimaginable violence and cruelty targeted specifically at
the weakest of the weak: women and children of religious minorities.
Undoubtedly, the volume covers much historiographical ground, yet the framing cate-
gories of ‘crime’ and ‘time’ are singularly insufficient to adequately describe its richness. All
essays, in some way or the other, map change over time; but for historical essays to do so is
unsurprising and do not warrant special emphasis on temporality. One suspects that ‘time’ is
invoked for the purpose of little more than the (somewhat unimaginative) chronological
division of sections into precolonial, colonial and postcolonial. Even in that case, the essays
escape the classificatory schema: Malavika Kasturi’s work, classified within the section called
‘Precolonial premonitions’, has almost nothing precolonial about it, dealing essentially with
the nineteenth century and drawing entirely upon colonial sources. On the other hand,
Sumit Guha’s fascinating essay examining notions of rights governing law and custom in
eighteenth-century Maharashtra through Maratha sources sits somewhat uncomfortably with
the most tangential relation that it can possibly claim with the history of ‘crime’.
On the whole, part of the Themes in Indian History series, this book serves as a resourceful
handbook for scholars as well as a comprehensive introduction to the theme for students of
history and the social sciences. However, far from being a mere compendium of essays, the
selection, classification, presentation and, not least, the insightful introduction evidently make it a
distinct contribution to historiography.

Note
1. Guha, Elementary Aspects, 84–8.

Bibliography
Guha, Ranajit. Elementary Aspects of Peasant Insurgency in Colonial India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1983.

Ishan Mukherjee
Faculty of History and Trinity College, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
ishan.mukherjee1985@gmail.com
© 2015, Ishan Mukherjee
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19472498.2015.1109308

Culinary culture in colonial India: a cosmopolitan platter and the middle-class, by


Utsa Ray, New Delhi, Cambridge University Press, 2015, x + 274 pp., Rs. 695.00 (hardback),
ISBN 9781107042810

If South Asian Studies were a room, food history would not be a big elephant in it. Nurtured for
several decades by the magisterial work of the lonesome pioneer-figure K.T. Achaya, the alimen-
tary aspects of modern Indian history and their connection with the complexities of colonial
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