The British colonial state in India, as part of establishing key sites of law and order, constructed certain tribes, groups, castes, and individuals as “criminals.” These criminal definitions came to play a prominent role in imperial criminal justice policies in India. This type of construction of criminality in the colonies also portrayed the stereotypical sense of the West, who depicted the indigenous in the East among other things as “criminals,” “robbers,” “rebels,” “docile Hindus,” “fanatic Muslims,” “untrustworthy Arabs,” and so on. Such nomenclatures were invented to describe how those groups reacted against the colonial invasion and were an important tool in delegitimizing such local uprisings. The discourses to label the non-Western population as inherently dangerous in the colony were also to alleviate its own fears and anxieties. An array of colonial scholars have worked on the making of criminal communities and groups in northern India through the discourse of race, caste, and tribe, especially Thuggees and Sansis, who were known for their perceived criminal propensities. Most studies on native criminality in colonial India have focused on the mid or late nineteenth century, with special reference to the ways and reasons by which the native tribes, peasants, and groups were labeled “criminals” by the colonial state. This paper looks into the ways in which “native criminality” was perceived during the early days of British rule in India, with special reference to the British rule in Malabar, where the colonial state maneuvered to classify certain sections of the Malabar population as distinct from the rest.


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pp. 373-395
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