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Criminalizing the natives : a study of the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 Safdar, Arafat


The wandering groups of India, who were criminalized by the British through the Criminal Tribes Act of 1870 (“CTA”), have been a subject of much scholarly discussion. In my work, I place the Act in context more broadly, delineating its relationship with a wide range of legal initiatives and codes in both British India and the UK, to understand how the wandering tribes were integrated into a broader British legal regime in India. In the first chapter, I look into the specific conception of ‘crime’ in the nineteenth century British India. The colonial officials classified an activity as a ‘crime’ by relying on the information contained in the contemporary official reports, minutes, and the ethnographic accounts. The act of defining a crime was then followed by a campaign for its elimination which would later be publicized through what I call the elimination narrative. In the second chapter, I examine the development of CTA as a statute by looking into the debates over the draft bill which was circulated among the bureaucrats of Punjab, NWP & Oudh. I trace the different responses submitted by officials from Punjab and NWP & Oudh to the proposed Act, as some of its provisions were already in place in the latter and had already drawn criticism from the provincial bureaucrats due to their inefficacy. In the last chapter, I situate CTA in the wider imperial context by comparing it with the Habitual Criminals Act, 1869 (“HCA”) and highlight the difference in the imperial and colonial perspective of these wandering groups of people. I also explore the history of the Salvation Army mission in India and their efforts to reform the criminal tribes of India through a close reading of Criminocurology, a book written by one of the founders of the Salvation Army in India. Such a multi-pronged study of CTA helps us recreate not only the story of the wandering groups but also that of law as an important marker of change in the colonial society.

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