International Penology in Colonial India: Too Advanced, Too American, Too Expensive?

25.06.2024 | GHIL Lecture | GHI London | vor Ort + online

Radhika Singha (Shiv Nadar University, Greater Noida)
International Penology in Colonial India: Too Advanced, Too American, Too Expensive?

The Indian Jail Committee report of 1919–20 is often cast as the turning point in colonial penal policy, when reform and rehabilitation were added to deterrence. But it is also acknowledged that very little changed on the ground. Why after all did a cash-strapped, politically-besieged regime sponsor a globe-trotting tour of jails and reformatories? Why did the committee return to enthuse about ‘flexible or indeterminate sentencing’, a principle embraced in the USA but faltering in Britain? To deflect criticism about the harsh treatment of ‘seditionist’ prisoners, the Jail Committee recast spaces of confinement as sites for agendas of post-war economic, institutional, and civic reconstruction. It presented a combined vision of confinement and social engineering that was taken up by colonial successor regimes. 

Radhika Singha taught modern and contemporary Indian history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi until her retirement. She is currently a visiting Professor at Shiv Nadar University, Greater Noida. Her research focuses on colonial criminal law, colonial identification practices and protocols, and borders and border-crossing, and it often intersects with labour history. She is currently working on criminology and ‘scientific’ penology in India 1894–1955, and the Foreigners Act and deportability in colonial India.

This lecture will take place as a hybrid event at the GHIL and online via Zoom. In order to attend this event, please register via Eventbrite to take part in person or online.

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