This article explores the legal structures and discursive framings informing the governance of one particular “backward” region of India, the Andaman Islands. I trace the shifting patterns of occupation and development of the islands in the colonial and postcolonial periods, with a focus on the changes wrought by independence in 1947 and the eventual history of planned development there. I demonstrate how intersecting discourses of indigenous savagery/primitivism and the geographical emptiness were repeatedly mobilized in colonial-era surveys and postcolonial policy documents. Postcolonial visions of developing the Andaman Islands ushered in a settler-colonial governmentality, infused with genocidal fantasies of the “dying savage.” Laws professing to protect aboriginal Jarawas actually worked to unilaterally extend Indian sovereignty over the lands and bodies of a community clearly hostile to such incorporation. I question the current exclusion of India from the global geographies of settler-colonialism and argue that the violent and continuing history of indigenous marginalization in the Andaman Islands represents a de facto operation of a logic of terra nullius.
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