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.

Victims and Villains: The Construction of Female Criminality in Colonial Calcutta

Victims and villains: The construction of female criminality in colonial Calcutta


The concept of crime went through a change in 18th–19th century Calcutta under British rule. According to the norms of morality that were prevalent in contemporary England, certain pre-colonial social practices and customs (for example, prostitution, street performance of folk culture and so on) were designated as crime by the colonial administrators. The drive by a colonial power towards the rapid urbanisation of a pre-industrial society also led to socio-economic tensions that gave birth to new types of crime which were driven by both poverty (for example, street crimes such as pick-pocketing and burglary of shops and banks) as well as by rising ambition ...

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