Title: Punishing collective action in India, 1919-1956: The politics of human rights and state violence
Name: Taylor C. Sherman
Year: 2005
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: This project examined state violence and punishment in India in the transition from colonial rule to independence. Previous studies of punishment in India had focused primarily on incarceration. This research expanded the study of the states methods of coercion by investigating not only imprisonment, but also corporal punishment, capital punishment, collective fines, dismissal from a place of education or employment, and state violence in the form of firing on crowds or bombing from the air. Using government records, it demonstrated that, rather than narrowing over time to privilege incarceration, the practices of punishment in India in fact grew more diverse in the period examined. Under the pressures of a non-violent nationalist movement, revolutionary terrorist violence, communal unrest, and a communist uprising, the state in India developed a more diverse array of penal techniques to cope with unrest. These included a rising number of extraordinary measures that circumvented the functioning of the ordinary legal system. And rather than focusing on the disciplining of individuals, these coercive tactics continued to target the population collectively.

The second objective of this study was to provide a cultural history of the ways in which different groups of Indians experienced and interpreted the punishment and state violence of the time. Using newspapers, poetry, and non-official reports in Hindi and English, the research explored the ways in which Indians used criticism of state violence and punishment to negotiate their own punishments, to challenge the state, and to achieve their own political objectives. It demonstrated that, under the pressure of this criticism, governments in India responded by reducing the discipline they imposed on their own forces. A division of labour thus emerged between the officials who formulated the rules on the use of state force, and non-official parties who monitored and criticised the application of that force. Drawing on studies of punishment across the colonial world, this research called for scholars to reassess histories of colonial punishment in Africa, Asia and Latin America, to look beyond the prison and re-evaluate the methods, scope and nature of colonial coercion across the globe. It also urged scholars to reassess the reasons for the difficulties that the state has experienced in handling unrest in present-day India.