William Gould – Policing, ‘Punishment’ and Quotidian Violence in Late Colonial and Early Independent North India

speaker_williamgouldWilliam Gould, University of Leeds
Policing, ‘punishment’ and quotidian violence in late colonial and early independent north India

Looking at policing UP, this paper examines the nexus between political power brokers and policemen, and the forms of violence and coercion that underpin this nexus between the 1910s and 1940s. It considers how complex forms of violence, involving social humiliation and the control of property and financial resources affected popular views of the state as they changed over the period of independence and partition. In this sense, the paper aims to contribute to both social science and historical presentations of the ‘everyday state’ by arguing that popular ideas of the state, informed by factors like contacts with the police, are dynamic and transitory, rather than static. The paper goes on to look at how violence associated with policing in places like UP, is part of a complex and changing nexus involving political interests, in both their colonial/authoritarian and democratic guises. This was not a straightforward relationship in which first district officers and then elected MLAs directed police action. Importantly, there was a level of local autonomy in which the sphere of power, the exercise of violence and the immunity to punishment allowed policemen to operate often in quite arbitrary ways. The influence or power of the political masters of policemen and other low level officials was therefore neither straightforward nor uniform. Finally, the paper will examine the extent to which the ‘fiction’ of state neutrality hindered the proscribed processes of discipline and punishment in the regulation of police violence and corruption. It asks how far this fiction changed popular views of the gulf between the rhetoric and realities of ‘public service’.

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