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Mukhopadhyay, A. (1996) Legal and penal institutions within a middle-class perspective in Colonial Bengal : 1854-1910. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis illustrates and analyses the ambiguity of the Bengali middle-class perception regarding the colonial legal and penal institutions, specifically the criminal courts and the jails, in the second half of the nineteenth century. The institutional functioning of the criminal courts and the jails form a marginal part of the thesis. The main focus is the bhadralok perception of these institutions as the repository of "law and order" as established by the colonial rule of law. This thesis contends that though the perceived need for preserving law and order through the rule of law came from the colonial government in the first half of the nineteenth century, it had the approval of the bhadralok. It is further argued that the categories of the criminals in the Bengal Presidency (or province), generated by the colonial government at the site of the criminal courts and the jails, were congruent with the divide separating the higher castes from the lower castes. These categories helped the bhadralok to take on a non-criminal identity, based on their perception of the colonial discourse on the criminal classes. Further, from the mid nineteenth century to the late nineteenth century, the increasing familiarity with the courts and the jails enabled the bhadralok, on the basis of their own changing experience, to construct a non-criminal identity for themselves. The central theme of the thesis is therefore the evolution of a bhadralok noncriminal identity revolving around their experience of the courts and the jails throughout the mid to late nineteenth century. On the basis of this non-criminal identity, the bhadralok in the late nineteenth century stood in opposition to the colonial government's mechanisms of control, namely the criminal courts and the jails, by questioning its right to impose such control on a non-criminal section of society, and thereby immediately imbuing the colonial government with illegality and oppression. But this was possible only after the identity of criminality had been grafted onto the lower sections of the society, the chhotolok. as it enabled the bhadralok to construct the mental image of the criminal courts and the jails as generally applicable only to the chhotolok. This, in turn, rendered the site of the criminal courts and the jails as spaces reserved for the lower sections of society. The first decade of the twentieth century is examined briefly to bring out the contrast of this period as against the bhadralok discourse evolving through the mid to late nineteenth century, which had set out the space of the criminal courts and the jails as desecrated space, unfit for the bhadralok to occupy. Against this background, the national movement endowed the legal and penal procedure with illegality and misrule of law, when they operated on the bhadralok as political prisoners. This was in diametrical contrast to the perception of the legitimacy of the legal and penal institutions when they operated on the chhotolok with the end of preserving law and order through these two institutions.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 14:58

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