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The Boot and the Spleen: When Was Murder Possible in British India?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 March 2006

Jordanna Bailkin
History, University of Washington


Could Britons in India commit murder? More precisely, could they be prosecuted and sentenced for doing so? As these epigraphs suggest, the Raj was deeply preoccupied with elaborating minute taxonomies of violence and death. In a variety of ways, British violence toward indigenes was made an object of policy initiatives by the Government of India. Defining violence, both indigenous and foreign, was one key task of the Raj, along with clarifying the boundary between legitimate and illegitimate violence. But this boundary shifted constantly over the colonial period, and indeed, it has continued to do so ever since. Given the extensive legal violence of colonial conquest, when and why were specific acts of white violence defined as murder?

Research Article
Society for Comparative Study of Society and History

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