Gender, family, and the policing of the 'criminal tribes' in nineteenth-century north India

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In the South Asian setting, the fields of gender history and family history are still predominantly concerned with relatively elite social groups. Few studies have examined issues of gender and the family in the history of Dalit, low-caste, and socially marginalized communities, especially those that were labelled 'criminal tribes' from the mid-nineteenth century on. This article explores the ways in which gender patterned criminalized communities' experiences of everyday colonial governance under Part I of the 1871 Criminal Tribes Act (CTA) in the first two decades that it was enforced in northern India. In this early period, the colonial government did not closely regulate marriage practices, domestic arrangements, or the gendered organization of labour within communities categorized as 'criminal tribes'. Nevertheless, notions of sexuality and gender underlay colonial knowledge of the 'criminal tribes', which emerged in dialogue with middle-class Indian gender and caste politics. Moreover, the family unit was the central target of the CTA surveillance and policing regime, which aimed to produce 'industrious' families. Officially endorsed forms of labour had complex implications for criminalized communities in the context of North Indian gender norms and strategies of social mobility. Gender power dynamics also shaped criminalized peoples' interpersonal, embodied interactions with British and Indian colonial officials on an everyday basis. Meanwhile, different forms of leverage and evasion were open to men and women to cope with their criminalization and so the colonial state was experienced in highly gendered ways.




Hinchy, J. (2020, September 1). Gender, family, and the policing of the “criminal tribes” in nineteenth-century north India. Modern Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press.

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