This paper contributes to the history of ‘criminal tribes’, policing and governance in British India. It focuses on one colonial experiment—the policing of Moghias, declared by British authorities to be ‘robbers by hereditary profession’—which was the immediate precursor of the first Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, but which so far altogether has passed under historians’ radar. I argue that at stake in the Moghia operations, as in most other colonial ‘criminal tribe’ initiatives, was neither the control of crime (as colonial officials claimed) nor the management of India's itinerant groups (as most historians argue), but the uprooting of the indigenous policing system. British presence on the subcontinent was punctuated with periodic panics over ‘extraordinary crime’, through which colonial authorities advanced their policing practices and propagated their way of governance. The leading crusader against this ‘crisis’ was the Thuggee and Dacoity Department, which was as instrumental in the ‘discovery’ of the ‘Moghia menace’ and ‘criminal tribes’ in the late nineteenth century as in the earlier suppression of the ‘cult of Thuggee’. As a policing initiative, the Moghia campaign failed consistently for more than two decades. Its failures, however, reveal that behind the façade-anxieties over ‘criminal castes’ and ‘crises of crime’ stood attempts at a systemic change of indigenous governance. The diplomatic slippages of the campaign also expose the fact that the indigenous rule by patronage persisted—and that the consolidation of the colonial state was far from complete—well into the late nineteenth century.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 29th May 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.