Criminal Imaginaries and Legal Order

Home/ Criminal Imaginaries and Legal Order
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLGC2LP2054

Semester and Year Offered: Third semester (Monsoon Semester 2018)

Course Coordinator and Team: Javed Iqbal Wani

Email of course coordinator: javed[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: This course builds upon two preceding courses, the Law and the Making of Modern India (a compulsory course taught in the first semester) and Law, Crime and Society (offered as an elective in the second semester). While Law and the Making of Modern India grounds discussion concerning colonial legality and subsequent criminalisation of individuals and groups, Law, Crime and Society offers a broader comprehension of understanding ‘crime’ and ‘criminals’ from the perspective of criminology. This course takes the discussion further by offering a precise study of the different kinds of ‘criminal(s)’ and the productive capacity of certain ‘criminalities’.

Course Outcomes:

After the successful completion of the course, the student should be able to;

  1. Demonstrate a knowledge of crime control strategies of the British colonial administration in the 18th and 19th century India.
  2. Demonstrate a knowledge of diverse perspectives that could be used to understand such crime control strategies.
  3. Demonstrate a critical understanding of colonial governance processes that resulted in the criminalisation of individuals, groups and populations.
  4. Participate and contribute through class discussions and research papers on topics related to crime and criminality in modern India.

A brief description of the Modules/Main modules :

Criminal Imaginaries and Legal Order will introduce students to an advanced discussion on the issue of ‘criminality’ and the complex factors that facilitate criminalisation of certain individuals or groups to sustain legal order(s). It is ideal for students who wish to critically explore not only the repressive but also the productive logic pertaining to various kinds of ‘criminals’ and ‘criminalities’. Sometimes such categorisation creates social, political, economic marginalisation, as a result. The course aims to offer an objective intellectual sensitivity to study such cases. It will introduce students to some of the recent discussions that have emerged from Critical Studies.

There will be three modules:

Module 1: Criminalizing populations

This module will study topics like the Thuggs/ Thugee and the Criminal Tribes in colonial and Postcolonial India in detail.

Module 2: Criminalising Individuals I

This module will look at specific problem categories of individuals such as Muitneers, Rebels, Insurgents, Vagrants & Prostitutes etc., which have been perceived as a threat to the maintenance of law and order.

Module 3: Criminalising Individual II

This module continues the discussion about the utility of ‘problem categories’ to colonial legal order such as the figure of the Goonda, Habitual Offenders, Rowdy Sheeters, Bandits etc.

Syllabus with List of Readings

Module 1:


Topics to be Covered:

This module will study topics like the Thuggs/ Thugee and the Criminal Tribes in colonial and postcolonial India in detail.

Week 1

Thuggs/ Thuggee


[During this week we will discuss the case study of Thuggs that saw the founding of a specific department, the Thugee Department. It will discuss, how a ‘dreadful’ criminality was crafted by the British colonialists in India and how such criminality created the foundations of a system that could bypass rules.]


 An introductory orientation lecture will be held to theoretically and conceptually locate the discussions that will take place during the course.


Radhika Singha, ‘“Providential” Circumstances: The Thuggee Campaign of the 1830s and Legal Innovation’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 27, 1 (1993).



Kim Wagner, ‘The Deconstructed Stranglers: A Reassessment of Thuggee’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 30, issue 4, 2004, pp 931-963



Week 2

Criminal Tribes- Eugenics & Crime


[This week will extend the discussion from Thugee to the next level by discussing how crime in British colonial India came to be seen as located in the genetic make-up of various tribes. It will also discuss how colonialists used certain governmental techniques such as settlements and reformation programmes to regulate such tribes.]

Andrew J. Major, State and Criminal Tribes in Colonial Punjab: Surveillance, Control and Reclamation of Dangerous Classes, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 33, 3, 1999.


Mark Brown, ‘Ethnology and Colonial Administration in Nineteenth century British India: The question of Native Crime and Criminality’, The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol.36, No.2, 2003, pp 201-219.


Module 2:

Criminalising Individuals


Topics to be Covered:

This module will look at specific problem categories of individuals such as habitual offender, Goonda, Rowdy Sheeter, Vagrant, Prostitute etc., which have been perceived as a threat to the maintenance of law and order.



Week 3

Mutineers- Crushing rebellion & the British War on Terror.




David Baker, ‘Colonial Beginnings and the Indian Response: The Revolt of 1857-58 in Madhya Pradesh’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 25, Issue 3, July 1991, pp 511-543.


Tapti Roy, ‘Visions of the Rebels: A study of 1857 in Bundelkhand’, Modern Asian Studies, Volume 27, Issue 1, 1993, pp 205-228.


Rudrangshu Mukherjee, ‘“Statan Let Loose Upon Earth”: The Kanpur Massacre in India in the Revolt of 1857’, Past & Present, No.128, 1990, pp 92-116


Week 4

Insurgents & Ghadrites

Kim Wagner, “Savage Warfare: Violence and the Rule of Colonial Difference in Early British Counterinsurgency”, History Workshop Journal (Jan 2018).


Bhavani Raman, “Law in Times of Counterinsurgency” (Chapter 4) in, Aparna Balachandran et al., Iterations of Law: Legal Histories from India, OUP, 2017.


Week 5


Ranajit Guha, ‘The Prose of Counter-Insurgency’, (Chapter 11) in, Culture/Power/History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory, Princeton University Press, 1993, Pages 640


Ananda Bhattacharya, ‘Reconsidering the Sanyasi Rebellion’, Social Scientist, Vol.40, No.3/ 4, March-April 2012, pp 81-100.


Week 6

Understanding Colonial Violence: Some Issues



Jonathan Saha, ‘Histories of Everyday Violence in British India’, History Compass, 9/11, 2011, pp 844-853.



Anupama Rao, ‘Problems of Violence, States of Terror: Torture in Colonial India’, International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, Vol. 3, Issue 2, 2001, pp 186-205.


Elizabeth Kolsky, ‘The Colonial Rule of Law and the Legal Regime of Exception: Frontier “Fanaticism” and State Violence in British India’, American Historical Review, Vol. 120, Issue 4, 2015, pp 1218-1246.


Week 7

Taylor Sherman, ‘Jallianwala Bagh, the Punjab disturbances of 1919, and the limits of state power in India, 1919-20’ (Chapter 2), in State Violence and Punishment in India, Sage, 2010, pp 14-37.


Kim Wagner, ‘‘Calculated to Strike Terror’: The Amritsar Massacre and the Spectacle of Colonial Violence’, Past & Present, No. 233, 2016, pp 185-225.


Week 8


[This week will discuss unproductive subjects of the empire, both Indian and European, who created embarrassment as well as administrative challenges to the colonial governance.]



Aravind Ganchari, ‘‘White Man’s Embarrassment’ European Vagrancy in 19th century Bombay’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 25, 2002, pp 2477-2486



David Arnold, ‘Poor Europeans in India, 1750-1947’, Current Anthropology, Vol. 20, no. 2, June 1979, pp 454-455


Neeladri, B. ‘Predicaments of Mobility: Peddlers and Itinerants in Nineteenth-Century Northwestern India’, in Claude Markovits, Jacques Pouchepadass, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, eds., Society and Circulation: Mobile People and Itinerant Cultures in South Asia 1750–1950, Delhi, 2003.

Week 9

Prostitution and Colonial Governance


[This week will discuss the significant issue of sex and governance in colonial India. It will discuss how prostitutes were seen as ‘immoral’ yet had a peculiar utility when it came to providing leisure to the soldiers of the British Empire. Such sexual conduct often posed health risks too.]


Phillipa Levine, Orientalist sociology and the creation of colonial sexualities, Feminist Review, No.65, pp 5-21


Stephen Legg, Stimulation, Segregation and Scandal: Geographies of Prostitution regulation in British India, between Registration (1888) and Suppression (1923), Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 46, No.6, pp 1459-1505


Ann L. Stoler, Making Empire Respectable, The Politics of Race and Sexual Morality in 20th century Colonial Cultures, American Ethnologist, Vol. 16, No.4, 1989, pp634-660


Week 10

Goondas and Habitual Offenders: Labour & ‘Disorder’

[The figure of the Vagabond is very important when it comes to maintaining quotidian law and order. This week will discuss certain figures such as Goondas, History Sheeters, Habitual Offenders, which enabled late colonial state in India to institute administrative mechanisms for externment of individuals from a city. This week will bring in issues of labour (both formal and informal), communalism and emergent urban governance in colonial India.]




Sugata Nandi, ‘Constructing the Criminal: Politics of Social Imaginary of the “Goonda’, Social Scientist, pp 37-54.


Prashant Kidambi, ‘The Ultimate Masters of the City: Police, Public Order and the Poor in Colonial Bombay, c. 1893-1914’, Crime, History & Socieites, Vol.8, No. 1, 2004, pp 27-47.


Vivek Dharishwar & Shrivatsa, ‘Rowdy-sheeters’: An Essay on Subalternity and Politics, in Subaltern Studies No.9: Writings on South Asian History and Society, Edt. Shahid Amin and Dipesh Chakravarty, 1996.


Week 11

Outlaw/Bandit, Daaku: The Peasant Challenge



Markus Daechsel, ‘Zalim Daku and the Mystery of the Rubber Sea Monster: Urdu Detective Fiction in 1930s Punjab and the Experience of Colonial Modernity’, Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, Vol.13, No.1, 2003, pp 21-43.


Vinita Damodaran, ‘Azad Dastaas and Dacoit Gangs: The Congress and Underground Activity in Bihar, 1942-44’, Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 26, Issue 3, pp 417-450.


Week 12


Shail Mayaram, ‘Kings Versus Bandits: Anti-Colonialism in a Bandit Narrative,’ Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, Third Series, Vol. 13, No. 3, 2003, pp 315-338.


Anand A Yang, ‘Bandits and Kings: Moral Authority and Resistance in Early Colonial India’, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 66, Issue 4, 2007, pp 881-896.



Assessment Methodology:

A combination of a mid-term examination, a book review, a response essay, a presentation and, a final exam.

Book Review


Mid semester exam


Term Paper (essay) + presentation


End semester exam


Attendance and class participation




Provided above with the module descriptions.