International Conference on Crime and Punishment in Colonial India: History, Literature and Testimony

deadline for submissions: 
November 20, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
K. K. Das College, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

International Conference


Crime and Punishment in Colonial India: History, Literature and Testimony

  • The deadline has been extended to 25 November 2022. 


A One-day In Person International Conference on Crime and Punishment in Colonial India

Organised by the Department of English & I. Q.A. C., K. K. Das College, Kolkata

in collaboration with New Alipore College & Maheshtala college, Kolkata

Date: 9 December, 2022

Deadline of Abstract Submission: 20 November, 2022

Concept Note:

This conference would broadly interrogate the institutions, procedures, and discourses in relation to the colonial punishment system in India, and explore how it develops and deconstructs the subjects, the notion of crime, and the colonial state in general. It questions how individuals and collective identities have been determined under the purview of colonial law, including if they are criminal, offender, victim, defender, or even dacoit. The colonial subjects, on the other hand, are not passive, homogeneous entities whose reception stand alike in terms of their race, class, caste, and gender. They conceive the new system as well as show resistance to it, which in turn defines them as either criminals or revolutionaries. We intend to probe into this historico-political conflict, rupture, and discontinuity of punishment policy, as observed in the literary writings because literature has the potential to produce an alternative “archive”, and even contest the official account.

In colonial India, the East India Company (EIC) had already started enforcing its own laws for resolving civil and criminal proceedings long before it was granted full legal status in 1797. In their 1772 legal framework, the Company established two significant courts in Bengal: Diwani Sadar Adalat (chief civil court) and Nizamat Sadar Adalat (chief criminal court). However, under the EIC’s regulations, the implementation of laws was arbitrary in nature, and the experience of 1857 Mutiny shook the colonial repressive apparatus to its core. Through the Indian Penal Code in 1860, as a result, the Britishers introduced the “rule of law” to claim the hegemony of the modern colonial state, which underlines their absolute legal authority (promising law, order, and safety for the colonial subjects) and the formation of good or bad legal subjecthood.

If some of the early literary writings, for instance, Priyonath Chattopadhyay’s Darogar Daptar (Policeman’s Diary), Girish Chandra Basu’s Sekaler Darogar Kahini (Contemporary Police Story), published in Nabajeevan magazine, Kedarnath Dutta’s Sachitra Gulzar Nagar, Markin Police Commissioner (The Police Commissioner of America) by Bhuvanchandra Mukhopadhyay and so on show racial determination of crime, severe irony in the justice system, and inhumane police torture in jail, the early writings of the 20th century like Saradindu Bandyopadhyay’s Byomkesh Bokshi series show the counter perspective of crime, and especially the construction of law-abiding, rational Indian subjects chiefly from the bhadralok gaze. Life writings of the revolutionaries such as Jawharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India, Mahatma Gandhi’s Songs from Prison, Aurobindo Ghosh’s Karakahini (Tales of Prison Life), Rani Chanda’s Jenana Phatak etc., would also be significant in this context to understand how the punishment system acts mostly as a discipling tool of violence and control in the colonial period, what the militant activism aims to defy.  

Therefore, we will look into the ways in which the colonial rule of punishment was both reconstructed and negotiated over the period according to the notions of race, class, and social hierarchy. How they structure crime, restrict human rights, and violate criminal breach of contract, and thereby are resisted vehemently, would be our main focus. 

Possible topics for exploration include but are not limited to:

  1. Colonial rule of law and its contingency
  2. Psychological repression, trauma, and punishment
  3. Punishment and Gendered body experience
  4. Crime from the perspective of gender
  5. Criminalising the tribes (castes)
  6. Crime, race and religion
  7. Formation of individual identity vis a vis law
  8. Discipling the natives, subversion, and their resistance
  9. Narratives on violence and torture in prison
  10. 10.  Prison deaths and irony of the colonial justice

Please send in abstracts of not more than 250 words, 5 keywords and a bionote of 60 words in Word documents to  by 20 November 2022 with the subject Conference on Crime and Punishment in Colonial India.

The bionote should be in a separate Word Document along with the abstract title and should contain name, affiliation, and location.

Selected abstracts will be notified by 25th November 2022. (For outstation delegates acceptance mail can be send earlier only with under special circumstances)

Registration Fees: 1000 INR (Co-contributors need to registrar separately)

Participation Fees: 350 INR (Only for participation)

Please note that no online mode of presentation will be allowed.  

For further information, check our conference website.