Over the past three decades human rights movements in India have persistently interrogated systems of criminal justice in the country. The concerns have ranged from addressing the problem of arbitrary detention during the emergency to constructing entire communities as criminal thereby justifying forced dispossession and/or mass violence. While overt violence by state actors and their complicity in violence by dominant private actors has been a major concern, there has also been the problem of the abdication by the state with respect to provision of the means for bare life to a majority of the people, the denial of the right to bare life compounding their vulnerability to a repressive rule of law. There is a widespread acceptance of the fact that the law is unequal especially in terms of access to and delivery of justice, inequality of process negating the fundamental guarantee of equality.

This collection of essays re-examines the field of criminology through an interdisciplinary lens, challenging in the process unproblematic assumptions of the rule of law and opening out avenues for a renewed and radical restatement of the contexts of criminal law in India. This collection is a significant step towards mapping the ways in which interdisciplinary research and human rights activism might inform legal praxis more effectively and holistically. The contributors are a diverse group – widely respected activists, bureaucrats, scholars, and professionals – who share concerns on criminal justice systems and the need to entrench human rights in the Indian polity.

Laws of Metamorphosis: From Nomad to Offender

Laws of metamorphosis: From nomad to offender

In the late 19th century, the emerging disciplines of criminology, phrenology and anthropometry boasted that the ‘illegible’ face of the criminal could now be recognised and interpreted by scientists and criminologists. A few decades earlier, Henry Mayhew, the celebrated author of London Labour and the London Poor: the Condition and Earnings of Those that Will Work, Cannot Work, and Will Not Work complemented his documentation of the distribution of crime with narratives provided by professional criminals.1 ‘The use of such “ethnographic” material was a major contribution to the development of criminology as a social science.’2 Mayhew called himself a ‘traveller in the undiscovered country of the poor’. In this writing, he recast ...

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