Histories of Everyday Violence In British India

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Historians of British India and colonial rule more generally have inevitably had to approach the difficult subject of colonial violence. Often, however, historians have explored colonial violence by focusing on exceptional and spectacular moments. Recently two books have been published that shift the terms of the historiography by examining colonial violence as an aspect of everyday life in British India: Taylor Sherman’s State Violence and Punishment in India and Elizabeth Kolsky’s Colonial Justice in British India. This article examines the limitations of the established literature’s characterisation of colonial violence, before comparing the work of Kolsky and Sherman. Both of their studies demonstrate that physical violence was an intrinsic and everyday aspect of the colonial encounter in India, and they lay the groundwork for further studies of everyday colonial violence.

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In 1925, Alexander Paterson, a Commissioner for Prisons in England and Wales, arrived in Rangoon to advise the local government on gaol conditions in Burma. This paper explores why the Burma prison administration invited Paterson, examines his findings and proposals – that included the suggestion that no convict should spend more than two years in gaol – and considers the fate of his recommendations. Paterson's visit and views are set in the social and political contexts of British rule in Burma at that time.
This article re-examines the history and historiography of the Saya San Rebellion (1930–32), Burma's most famous peasant uprising and one of Southeast Asia's most frequently examined anti-colonial movements. By retracing the documents most intimately connected to the rebellion's official narrative, this study reconstructs the legal and administrative context within which this particular history was made.
Reformulating the Question about ColonialismThe Problem about Colonial PowerThe Problem about Modern PowerGoverning Colonial ConductNotes
The study of penal practices in colonised parts of Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean has recently witnessed a significant shift. The first generation of research into the coercive measures of colonial states tended to focus rather narrowly on imprisonment. The second generation, which has emerged only in the last five years, has significantly widened their field of vision to incorporate much more than the prison. The most recent literature considers capital and corporal punishment, as well as the larger functioning of police and courts. It also explores in more depth the ways in which indigenous peoples experienced and interpreted their punishments. Finally, this new research is sensitive to the paradoxes and tensions of colonial punishment, which often frustrated its purposes. This article reflects upon these historiographical shifts, and argues that, in light of these developments, a new framework for the study of colonial punishment is now called for. It suggests that an approach which views colonial coercive techniques as part of imperial ‘coercive networks’ encapsulates this new thinking.
1. Introduction 2. Jallianwala Bagh, the Punjab Disturbances of 1919, and the Limits of State Power in India, 1919-1920 3. Disobedience and Discord: The Non-Cooperation Movement, 1920-1925 4. Extra-Judicial Punishments and the Civil Disobedience Movement, 1930-1934 5. Legislating against Communal Violence: The United Provinces Goonda Act, and the Bombay Whipping Act, 1929-1938 6. The Hunger Strikes of the Lahore Conspiracy Case Prisoners, 1929-1938 7. The Second World War and India’s Coercive Network, 1939-1946 8. Partition and the Transitional State in India, 1947-1948 9. The Police action in Hyderabad and the Making of the Postcolonial State in India, 1947-1956 10. Conclusion
Burma has never been a popular subject for academic research but, since a massive pro-democracy uprising drew worldwide attention to the country in 1988, the number of scholars and students engaged in the field has grown considerably. However, they still face a number of major challenges. Along with other kinds of area studies, Burma studies have been accused by academics from the more 'scientific' disciplines of being too narrowly focused and lacking theoretical rigour. Also, it has been difficult to conduct research in Burma's closed society. While the latest military government has relaxed some controls, field work is still constrained and reliable sources are hard to find. Often, the knowledge gap has been filled by myths and misconceptions. Adding to these problems, since 1988 the Burma studies community has become highly polarised, with political and moral factors often featuring more prominently in the public debate than considered arguments based on objective analysis. All these factors have adversely affected modern Burma studies and restricted understanding of this deeply troubled country by both scholars and the wider community. Yes Yes
The Everyday State and Society in Modern India focuses on how the large, amorphous and impersonal Indian state affects the everyday lives of ordinary citizens. All the eight essays in this book are original contributions and are based on empirical research. They dwell on a variety of issues, such as riot control, the Emergency, corruption, irrigation, rural activism and education and cut across academic disciplines.
This article explores a criminal case in late-nineteenth-century Upper Burma, in which a British police officer named Chisholm was accused of forcibly tattooing the face of his Burmese mistress, Mah Gnee. The case is discussed with regard to the histories of punitive and decorative tattooing in pre-colonial and colonial South Asia, as well as British anxieties about the occupation of Burma. The article then analyzes the links between the body politics of tattooed women in Britain and Burma in the aftermath of the Chisholm case. From the 1880s to the 1920s, a period of severe economic and political strain for the British aristocracy, upper-class women of the metropole began to adopt the tattoo. This fad greatly disturbed continental scholars such as Cesare Lombroso, who associated tattoos with savage or criminal populations. Late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century British interpretations focused instead on the tattoo as a gendered marker of aristocratic crisis, a material sign of whether British aristocrats were fundamentally ‘primitive’ or ‘modern’. The ‘problem’ of tattooed women, articulated both in the unstable territories of Upper Burma and in London's fashionable circles, underscored the complex (and uniquely British) historical connection between the downward spirals of aristocracy and empire.
The Two Faces of Colonialism
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Washbrook, D., 'India, 1818–1860: The Two Faces of Colonialism', in A. Porter (ed.), Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. III (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 395–421.
Madness, Cannabis and Colonialism: The 'Native-Only' Lunatic Asylums of British India
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J. Mills, Madness, Cannabis and Colonialism: The 'Native-Only' Lunatic Asylums of British India, 1857–1900 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000).
The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality: Two Lectures by and an Interview with Michel Foucault
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T. Mitchell, Colonising Egypt (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988). 12 M. Foucault, 'Governmentality', in G. Burchell, C. Gorden and P. Miller (eds.), The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality: Two Lectures by and an Interview with Michel Foucault (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 87–104;
The Animal, the Madman, and Death Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister, and My Brother…: A Case of Parricide in the 19th Century
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Peter, J.-P., and Favret, J., 'The Animal, the Madman, and Death', in M. Foucualt (ed.), F. Jellinek (trans.), I, Pierre Rivière, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister, and My Brother…: A Case of Parricide in the 19th Century (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1975), 175–98.
Disciplining Punishment: Colonialism and Convict Society in the Andaman Islands
  • S Sen
Sen, S., Disciplining Punishment: Colonialism and Convict Society in the Andaman Islands (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000).
The Colonial Prison: Power, Knowledge and Penology in Nineteenth-Century India Subaltern Studies VIII: Essays in Honour of Ranajit GuhaDisciplining ''natives'': Prisons and Prisoners in Early Nineteenth Century India
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For India see D. Arnold, 'The Colonial Prison: Power, Knowledge and Penology in Nineteenth-Century India', in D. Arnold and D. Hardiman (eds.) Subaltern Studies VIII: Essays in Honour of Ranajit Guha (Delhi: Oxford Uni-versity Press, 1994), 148–87 and A. A. Yang, 'Disciplining ''natives'': Prisons and Prisoners in Early Nineteenth Century India', South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 10 ⁄ 2 (1987), 29–45;
A Shooting Incident at Insein Prison, Burma, in 1947 The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth StudiesThe Rangoon Jail Riot of 1930 and the Prison Administration of British Burma
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I. Brown, 'A Shooting Incident at Insein Prison, Burma, in 1947', The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth Studies, 17 ⁄ 4 (2010), 517–35 and J. Warren, 'The Rangoon Jail Riot of 1930 and the Prison Administration of British Burma', South East Asia Research, 10 ⁄ 1 (2002), 5–29.
14 For a thorough, indeed almost comprehensive review of this historiography, seeTensions of Colonial Punishment: Perspectives on Recent Developments in the Study of Coercive Networks in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean
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Kolsky, Colonial Justice in British India: White Violence and the Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 8. 14 For a thorough, indeed almost comprehensive review of this historiography, see T. Sherman, 'Tensions of Colonial Punishment: Perspectives on Recent Developments in the Study of Coercive Networks in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean', History Compass, 7 (2009).
Colonial Justice in British India: White Violence and the Rule of Law
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Kolsky, E., Colonial Justice in British India: White Violence and the Rule of Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
Brave Men of the Hills: Resistance and Rebellion in Burma 1825-1932
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Ghosh, P., Brave Men of the Hills: Resistance and Rebellion in Burma 1825-1932 (London: Hurst, 2000).
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