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Legislating the Labor Force: Sedentarization and Development in India and the United States, 1870–1915

  • Divya Subramanian (a1)


Scholars have treated British colonial rule in India and the internal colonization of the United States in the nineteenth century as analytically distinct moments. Yet these far-flung imperial projects shared a common set of anxieties regarding land and labor. This paper seeks to conceptualize the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 in India and the Indian Appropriation Acts of 1851–1871 in the United States as part of a congruent effort to manage and define the labor force in the context of the intensified expropriation of land. In the complement to agricultural improvement programs, British and American colonizers sought to rehabilitate itinerant populations to create a labor pool endowed with suitable qualities for unleashing the productive capacity of land. While in India the cumulative effect of criminal tribes legislation was inclusive in that members of criminal tribes were purportedly reformed in preparation for joining the colonial labor force, reservation policy in the United States excluded Native Americans from lands that were the preserve of white labor while simultaneously laying the groundwork for assimilation.


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1 Quoted in Major, Andrew, “State and Criminal Tribes in Colonial Punjab: Surveillance, Control and Reclamation of the ‘Dangerous Classes,’Modern Asian Studies 33, 2 (1999): 657–88, 675. Under the 1871 Criminal Tribes Act, hundreds of “criminal tribes” in North India—vagrant or low-caste groups with a supposed hereditary predilection for crime—were registered by the colonial government and their movements restricted to settlements.

2 See Singha, Radhika, “Settle, Mobilize, Verify: Identification Practices in Colonial India,” Studies in History 16, 2 (2000): 151–98; Radhakrishna, Meena, Dishonoured by History: Criminal Tribes and British Colonial Policy (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2001); Nigam, Sanjay, “Disciplining and Policing the ‘Criminals by Birth’: Part 1: The Making of a Colonial Stereotype—The Criminal Tribes and Castes of North India,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 27, 2 (1990): 131–64; and Disciplining and Policing the ‘Criminals by Birth’: Part 2: The Development of a Disciplinary System, 1871–1900,” Indian Economic and Social History Review 27, 3 (1990): 257–87; David Arnold, “Crime and Crime Control in Madras, 1858–1947,” and Freitag, Sandria, “Collective Crime and Authority in North India,” both in Yang, Anand A., ed., Crime and Criminality in British India (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1985); and Dube, Saurabh and Rao, Anupama, eds., Crime through Time (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

3 Blackhawk, Ned, “American Indians and the Study of U.S. History,” in Foner, Eric and McGirr, Lisa, eds., American History Now (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2011). See Trennert, Robert A., Alternative to Extinction: Federal Indian Policy and the Beginnings of the Reservation System, 1846–51 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1975); Unrau, William E., The Rise and Fall of Indian Country, 1825–1855 (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2007). The term “Indians” is gaining in usage among scholars of the indigenous peoples of North America. To reduce confusion, I use Native American unless making reference to historical usages, such as “Indian removal.”

4 Bell, Duncan, The Idea of Greater Britain: Empire and the Future of World Order, 1860–1900 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007). See Ford, Lisa, Settler Sovereignty (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011); Banner, Stuart, Possessing the Pacific: Land, Settlers, and Indigenous Peoples from Australia to Alaska (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007; and Belich, James, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

5 Singha, “Settle, Mobilize, Verify,” 154.

6 Hodge, Joseph Morgan, Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines of Development and the Legacies of British Colonialism (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007), 2; Cooper, Frederick, “Writing the History of Development,” Journal of Modern European History 8, 1 (2010): 523; Havinden, Michael and Meredith, David, eds., Colonialism and Development: Britain and Its Tropical Colonies 1850–1960 (New York: Routledge, 1996).

7 Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, 5; Cooper, “Writing the History of Development,” 9.

8 Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, xxii.

9 Cooper, “Writing the History of Development,” 9.

10 Ibid., 12.

11 Weaver, John C., The Great Land Rush and the Making of the Modern World, 1650–1900 (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2006), 6, 1112.

12 Bayly, Christopher, Imperial Meridian: The British Empire and the World, 1780–1830 (New York: Routledge, 1989).

13 Brenner, Robert, “Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe,” Past and Present 70 (1976): 3075.

14 Weaver, Great Land Rush, 12.

15 Lambert, David and Lester, Alan, eds., Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 2.

16 Foucault, Michel, The Archeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (London: Tavistock Publications, 1972), 49.

17 Fletcher, Robert S. J., British Imperialism and “the Tribal Question”: Desert Administration and Nomadic Societies in the Middle East 1919–1936 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 38.

19 Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, 17.

20 Quoted in ibid., 17 (his italics).

21 See Fitzmaurice, Andrew, Sovereignty, Property, and Empire, 1500–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014). Fitzmaurice notes that the term terra nullius only emerged late in the nineteenth century.

22 Fletcher, British Imperialism, 38.

23 Mamood, Syed, A History of English Education in India (Aligarh: MAO College, 1895), 13.

24 Gidwani, Vinay, “‘Waste’ and the Permanent Settlement in Bengal,” Economic and Political Weekly 27, 4 (Jan. 1992): 3946.

25 Guha, Ranajit, A Rule of Property for Bengal: An Essay on the Idea of Permanent Settlement (Paris: École Pratique des Hautes Études, 1963).

26 Hodge, Triumph of the Expert, 25.

27 Wm. P. Dole, Commissioner, to J. P. Usher, Secretary of the Interior, 17 May 1864, in Kappler's Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, Volume 1 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1904).

28 House of Commons Papers, “Statement of Moral and Material Progress and Condition of India, 1884–1885,” vol. 49, no. 210, 12; House of Commons Papers, “Statement of Moral and Material Progress and Condition of India, 1883–84,” vol. 60, no. 51, 13.

29 Lake, Marilyn and Reynolds, Henry, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men's Countries and the Question of Racial Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

30 Forth, Aidan, Barbed-Wire Imperialism: Britain's Empire of Camps, 1876–1903 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2017), 13, 1516.

31 Legassick, Martin, “British Hegemony and the Origins of Segregation in South Africa, 1901–14,” in Beinart, William and Dubow, Saul, eds., Segregation and Apartheid in Twentieth-Century South Africa (London: Routledge, 1995), 46.

32 A small but significant literature has drawn parallels between the African-American experience in the United States and the status of the colonial or Dalit subject in India. See Immerwahr, Daniel, “Caste or Colony: Indianizing Race in the United States,” Modern Intellectual History 4, 2 (2007), 275301; Pandey, Gyanendra, A History of Prejudice: Race, Caste, and Difference in India and the United States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); see also Stoler, Ann, “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American History and (Post) Colonial Studies,” Journal of American History 88, 3 (2001): 829–65.

33 Immerwahr, “Caste or Colony.”

34 Murray, Charles Augustus, Travels in North America during the Years 1834, 1835 & 1836 (London: Richard Bentley, 1839), 48.

35 Marryat, Frederick, A Diary in America (New York: Wm. H. Colyer, 1839).

36 Thrush, Coll, Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016).

37 Khalili, Laleh, Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Counterinsurgencies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), 1619.

38 Ibid.; Callwell, C. E., Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice (London: Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1906).

39 Bannister, Saxe, British Colonization and Coloured Tribes (London: W. Ball, 1838), 283.

40 Speech by Mr. John Roebuck, House of Commons, 21 July 1845. At: (accessed 4 Apr. 2019).

41 Letter from William Booth to the Secretary of State for India, 2 Aug. 1910, Salvation Army International Heritage Centre [hereafter IHC], Papers of William Booth, IHC/PWB/4/13.

43 “A World-Survey of Salvation Army Activities—Our Work among Criminals,” The Officer (Jan. 1914): 27–29, IHC.

44 See Singha, Radhika, A Despotism of Law: Crime and Justice in Early Colonial India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998); Washbrook, David, “Law, State, and Agrarian Society in Colonial India,” Modern Asian Studies 15, 3 (1981): 649721; Sinha, Mrinilini, Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006). See also Travers, Robert, Ideology and Empire in Eighteenth-Century India: The British in Bengal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

45 Sarkar, Tanika, “A Prehistory of Rights: The Age of Consent Debate in Colonial Bengal,” Feminist Studies 26, 3 (2000): 601–22; Singha, Despotism of Law; Singha, , “Colonial Law and Infrastructural Power: Reconstructing Community, Locating the Female Subject,” Studies in History 19, 1 (2003): 87123; Pandey, Gynanendra, The Construction of Communalism in Colonial North India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).

46 Karsten, Peter, Between Law and Custom: ‘High’ and ‘Low’ Legal Cultures in the Lands of the British Diaspora (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

47 Karsten, Between Law and Custom, 49, 50–53; Weaver, Great Land Rush, 112.

48 Weaver, Great Land Rush, 149.

49 Banner, Possessing the Pacific, 9.

50 Documents of the Senate of the State of New York, Ninety-Third Session—1870, Volume I (Albany: Argus Company, 1870), 417.

51 Ibid., vii.

52 G. Hutchinson to the Secretary to Government, Punjáb, 17 June 1868, Government of India Legislative Department Proceedings, India Office Records [hereafter IOR/LDP], 88; G. Hutchinson to the Secretary to Government, Punjáb, 5 May 1868, IOR/LDP/63.

53 London Yearly Meeting (Society of Friends), Further Information Respecting the Aborigines; Containing Reports of the Committee on Indian Affairs at Philadelphia… (London: E. Marsh, 1842).

54 The Third Annual Report of the Aborigines’ Protection Society (London: P. White & Son, 1840); Journal of the Ethnological Society of London, vol. 1 (London: Truber & Co., 1869).

55 Metcalf, Thomas, Ideologies of the Raj (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).

56 Ibid.; Hall, Catherine, McClelland, Keith, and Rendall, Jane, Defining the Victorian Nation: Class, Race, Gender and the British Reform Act of 1867 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

57 Foner, Eric, Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877 (New York: Harper and Row, 1988); see also Richardson, Heather Cox, West from Appomattox: The Reconstruction of America after the Civil War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008); Hahn, Steven, A Nation under Our Feet: Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).

58 Goswami, Manu, Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004).

59 Ibid. See also Cohn, Bernard, Colonialism and Its Forms of Knowledge: The British in India (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

60 The Times, 18 Nov. 1895, IHC/BT/4.

61 Davis, Mike, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Nino Famines and the Making of the Third World (New York: Verso, 2001).

62 Nash, Roderick, Wilderness and the American Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), 31.

63 Weaver, Great Land Rush, 88.

64 Ibid., 89; Moya, José C., “A Continent of Immigrants: Postcolonial Shifts in the Western Hemisphere,” Hispanic American Historical Review 86, 1 (2006): 1–28, 45.

65 Weaver, Great Land Rush, 88, 90; see also Belich, Replenishing the Earth.

66 Jones, Emily, Edmund Burke and the Invention of Modern Conservatism, 1830–1914 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 8889.

67 F. O. Mayne, Inspector General of Police, to the Secretary to the Government of the North-Western Provinces, 28 May 1867, IOR/LDP/2302.

68 Abstract of the Proceedings of the Council of the Governor-General of India (Calcutta: Government of India Central Printing Office, 1870), 422.

69 Major, “State and Criminal Tribes,” 667; Stephen, Leslie, The Life of James Fitzjames Stephen, Bart., K.C.S.I. (London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1895), 259.

70 Major, “State and Criminal Tribes,” 668.

71 IOR/LDP/2302; Nigam, “Disciplining and Policing, Part 1,” 140.

72 Nigam, “Disciplining and Policing, Part 1,” 154; Major, “State and Criminal Tribes,” 667.

73 Radhakrishna, Dishonoured by History, 27; Major, “State and Criminal Tribes,” 669.

74 Major, “State and Criminal Tribes,” 670.

75 Nigam, “Disciplining and Policing, Part 2,” 257–58.

76 Criminal Tribes’ Act,” The Unrepealed and Unexpired Acts of the Legislative Council of India, from 1834–[1871–1872], Volume V (Calcutta, 1872), 208–10.

77 American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, One Hundredth Annual Report (Boston: Fort Hill Press, 1914), 113.

78 The Punjab Record (Reference Book for Civil Officers), Volume 10, (Lahore: W. E. Ball, 1875), 96.

79 Memo by Sir D. F. Macleod, 23 July 1870, Legislative Department Proceedings [hereafter LDP], Nov. 1871, no. 67, National Archives of India [hereafter NAI].

80 Letter from C. P. Carmichael, Inspector General of Police, to the Secretary to the Government, North-Western Provinces, 6 July 1870, IOR/LDP/421A.

81 Pandey, Construction of Communalism, 108.

82 Marx, Karl, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1 (Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2011), book 8.

83 Letter from J. F. Sandford to the Secretary to the Government of the North-Western Provinces, 22 July 1867, IOR/LDP/971.

84 Annual Reports (1846–1865), Thugee and Dacoity Department, F-1 to F-9, NAI; Original Legislative Consultations, 26 Feb. 1848, no. 31, NAI.

85 Annual Report for 1862 from an Assistant General Superintendent, 1 June 1863, Thuggee and Dacoity Department, F-7, NAI.

87 Extract from Abstract of the Proceedings of the Council of the Governor-General of India, LDP, Nov. 1871, no. 125, NAI.

88 Letter from P. H. Egerton, Esq., Commissioner and Superintendent, Amritsar Division, to the Secretary to the Government of the Panjab, 20 Feb. 1869, repr. in LDP, Nov. 1871, no. 67, NAI.

89 “The Criminal Tribes Work in India as an Economic Experiment,” Staff Review, 1930, 391–96, IHC.

90 Tolens, Rachel, “Colonizing and Reforming the Criminal Tribesman: The Salvation Army in British India,” American Ethnologist 18, 1 (1991): 106–25, 114, 117.

91 “A Note on General Booth's Indian Peasant Settlements by G. B. Paranjape L.M. & S.,” IHC/BT/4.

92 LDP/NAI/67.

93 Letter from C. J. Hallifax, Junior Secretary to Government, Punjab and Its Dependencies to the Secretary to the Government of India, Legislative Department, 23 Apr. 1896, IOR/LDP/541; Letter from E. B. Francis, Deputy Commissioner, Ferozepore, to the Junior Secretary to Government, Punjab, 23 Jan. 1896, IOR/LDP/109.

94 IOR/LDP/541.

95 Banner, Possessing the Pacific, 319.

96 White, Richard, It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991), 89.

98 R. McClelland, Secretary, to the President of the United States, Department of the Interior, 12 Apr. 1855, in Kappler's Indian Affairs.

99 E. S. Parker, Commissioner, to Hon. C. Delano, Secretary of the Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, 13 Feb. 1871, in Kappler's Indian Affairs.

100 Banner, Stuart, How the Indians Lost Their Land: Law and Power on the Frontier (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), 6.

101 Ibid., 233.

102 Ibid., 240.

103 Karsten, Between Law and Custom, 57.

104 Prucha, Francis Paul, American Indian Policy in Crisis: Christian Reformers and the Indian, 1865–1900 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976), 6364.

105 Cahill, Cathleen D., Federal Fathers and Mothers: A Social History of the United States Indian Services, 1869–1933 (Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 18.

106 Ibid., 67.

107 General W. T. Sherman to General J. M. Schofield, 9 Nov. 1871, in Kappler's Indian Affairs.

108 Abstract of the Proceedings, 422.

109 H. R. Clum to the Secretary of the Interior, 28 June 1875, in Kappler's Indian Affairs, 867.

110 The notion of the pre-industrial world as “natural” is problematized by Cronon, William, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York: W. W. Norton, 1991).

111 General William Tecumseh Sherman to General J. M. Schofield, 9 Nov. 1871, in Kappler's Indian Affairs.

112 Annual Administration Report on the Working of the Criminal Tribes Act in the Bombay Presidency, Part I (Bombay: Government Central Press, 1930), 9.

113 The Indian Criminal Codes, Fourth Edition (London and Calcutta: John Flack & Co., Wyman & Co., 1872), 326.

114 Tucker, Frederick Booth, Criminocurology—The Indian Crim and what to Do with Him (Simla: Lidden's Printing Works, 1916), 23; American Baptist Foreign Mission, One Hundredth Annual Report, 113.

115 Geo. W. Manypenny, Commissioner, to R. McClelland, Secretary of the Interior, 10 Nov. 1855, in Kappler's Indian Affairs.

116 R. McClelland, Secretary of the Interior, to the President of the United States, 12 Apr. 1855, in Kappler's Indian Affairs.

117 House of Commons Papers, “Statement of Moral and Material Progress,” 1883–1884, 13.

118 Ulysses S. Grant, 14 Nov. 1871, in Kappler's Indian Affairs.

119 Annual Administration Report, 9; Indian Criminal Codes, 325.

120 Opinion by C. Brown, Deputy Inspector-General of Police, on the Bill to Amend the Criminal Tribes Act 1871, 31 Jan. 1896, IOR/LDP/181.

121 Booth Tucker, Criminocurology, 2.

122 Tolens, “Colonizing and Reforming.”

123 Major, “State and Criminal Tribes,” 684.

124 Ibid., 675.

125 Report on the Administration of the Police of the Madras Presidency (Madras, Government Press, 1913), 28.

126 American Baptist Foreign Mission, One Hundredth Annual Report, 113.

127 United States Board of Indian Commissioners and Eliot, Samuel A., Christian Missions among the American Indians (Washington, D.C.: Board of Indian Commissioners, 1927), 2, 6.

128 Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs 1862/63 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1864), 237; Society of Friends, Further Information, 14.

129 Cahill, Federal Fathers and Mothers, 19.

130 American Baptist Foreign Mission, One Hundredth Annual Report, 113.

131 Report of the Commissioner, 237.

132 A Mission Study Class in India: Kachins and Singphos One,” Baptist Missionary Magazine 88, 9 (1908): 355.

133 American Baptist Foreign Mission, One Hundredth Annual Report, 113.

134 Elkins, Caroline and Pedersen, Susan, eds., Settler Colonialism in the Twentieth Century: Projects, Practices, Legacies (New York: Routledge, 2005), 2.

135 Ibid., 3.

136 White, Richard, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 519.

137 Report of the Commissioner, 240.

138 Ibid., 242.

139 Ibid.

140 Foner, Eric, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 26. For the significance of the West as a space where anxieties about race and racial mixing played out in the era of “Greater Reconstruction,” see West, Elliott, “Reconstructing Race,” Western Historical Quarterly 34, 1 (2003): 626.

141 Cahill, Federal Fathers and Mothers, 22, 26.

142 Ibid., 30–31.

143 Littlefield, Alice, “Indian Education and the World of Work in Michigan, 1893–1933,” in Littlefield, Alice and Knack, Martha, eds., Native Americans and Wage Labor: Ethnohistorical Perspectives (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996), 103.

144 Ibid., 118.

145 Trennert, Robert A., “From Carlisle to Phoenix: The Rise and Fall of the Indian Outing System, 1878–1930,” Pacific Historical Review 52, 3 (1983): 267–91.

146 Bauer, William J. Jr., We Were All Like Migrant Workers Here: Work, Community, and Memory on California's Round Valley Reservation, 1850–1941 (Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 57, 79.

147 Cahill, Federal Fathers and Mothers, 106.

148 Porter, Frank W. III, “Without Reservation: Federal Indian Policy and the Landless Tribes of Washington,” in Castile, George Pierre and Bee, Robert L., eds., State and Reservation: New Perspectives on Federal Indian Policy (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992), 114–15.

149 Singha, “Settle, Mobilize, Verify,” 154.

150 Letter from Lieut.-Col. R.H.M. Aitken to the Secretary to the Government of India, 1–2 June 1870, IOR/LDP/236.

151 Unrepealed and Unexpired Acts, 209.

152 Abstract of the Proceedings, 424.

153 Major, “State and Criminal Tribes,” 677.

154 Escobar, Arturo, Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

155 “Indian Criminal Tribes Immigration Ordinance of 1938,” 1 Jan. 1939, file 56067, National Archives, Kew, London.

156 Genetin-Pilawa, C. Joseph, Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight over Federal Indian Policy after the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014), 158–59.

157 Blackhawk, “American Indians,” 390.


Legislating the Labor Force: Sedentarization and Development in India and the United States, 1870–1915

  • Divya Subramanian (a1)


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