Colonial Justice in British India: White Violence and the Rule of Law

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Colonial Justice in British India describes and examines the lesser-known history of white violence in colonial India. By foregrounding crimes committed by a mostly forgotten cast of European characters - planters, paupers, soldiers and sailors - Elizabeth Kolsky argues that violence was not an exceptional but an ordinary part of British rule in the subcontinent. Despite the pledge of equality, colonial legislation and the practices of white judges, juries and police placed most Europeans above the law, literally allowing them to get away with murder. The failure to control these unruly whites revealed how the weight of race and the imperatives of command imbalanced the scales of colonial justice. In a powerful account of this period, Kolsky reveals a new perspective on the British Empire in India, highlighting the disquieting violence that invariably accompanied imperial forms of power.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"There is no question that Kolsky succeeds admirably in connecting white criminality to the core subjects of colonial history, including ideologies of rule, the lived experience of colonial conflicts, and the discourses of anti-colonial movements. The acts of violence she studies emerge not merely as chilling reminders of colonialism's cruelty but also as an integral and important force within colonial legal politics." - Lauren Benton, New York University, Law & History Review

"This book... has much to offer. It opens a new window into the nature and complexity of British imperial rule. The excavation of the problems posed by the "non-official" white community in India is a welcome addition to the literature.... [T]his works adds to our understanding of the extent of violence inherent to white rule in India and contributes to a broader understanding of crime and justice under the British raj." - H-Law Reviews

"...this is a remarkable study that opens up new vistas on the relationship among law, violence, and colonial rule. It is proof that the new imperial history is still capable of generating fresh insights." - Douglas M. Peers, York University, American Historical Review

This is an excellent book and a much-needed contribution to the historiography of British India.... Colonial Justice...White Violence is necessary reading for scholars interested in colonial India and empire...It pushes all of us to ask penetrating questions about the practice of history— about what we choose to write about (and teach) and how we do so." - Clare Anderson, University of Warwick, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society

Not all the judges in colonial India were fair and impartial...The offenders were tried by white judges and white juries after white policemen had cooked up the case in their favour. It is this aspect of the British record on justice in India that Prof. Elizabeth Kolsky of Villanova University exposes in her work with meticulous documentation and cogent analyses." - A.G Noorani, Frontline

"Kolsky make[s] full and creative use of the colonial archive, and...a strong case for re-examining the social and poiltical impact of white subalternity and violence on the British Raj. With [its] empirical richness and analytical acuteness, [the study] will be [an] essential referenc[e] for decades to come" - Satoshi Mizutani, Doshisha University, Japan, Social History

Kolsky's work on colonial justice in India in the context of crime and violence by Europeans in India is an important intervention in scholarship on colonial legal history in India...the book is highly recommended for its painstaking analysis of unfamiliar archival materials and texts which many historians, lawyers, and South Asian studies scholars will find useful." - Geetanjali Srikantan, Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore

"Kolsky’s approach to the state and law is one of her most novel and valuable contributions." - Stephen Legg, University of Nottingham, UK; Journal of Historical Geography

"...[a] well documented account." - James A. Epstein, Vanderbilt University; History Workshop Journal

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Kolsky is an Assistant Professor of History at Villanova University. She is co-editor of Fringes of Empire: People, Power and Places on the Margins of Colonial India (2009), author of many articles, and contributor to numerous books.

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Table of Contents

List of figures; List of maps; List of tables; Acknowledgements; Glossary; Introduction; 1. White peril: law and lawlessness in early colonial India; 2. Citizens, subjects and subjection to law: codification and the legal construction of racial difference; 3. 'Indian human nature': evidence, experts, and the elusive pursuit of truth; 4. 'One scale of justice for the planter and another for the coolie': law and violence on the Assam tea plantations; 5. 'A judicial scandal': the imperial conscience and the race against empire; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

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