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Jennifer Wai-Lan Huang
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—When studying colonial Bombay (now Mumbai), Ketaki Pant asks the intimate question of how Indian bodies—the actual flesh and blood of colonial subjects—were defined and affected during this period. “A lot of times when we look at legalistic urban history, it is in a removed way,” says Pant. “We’re examining documents about municipal and judicial statutes. But if you look at the application of those codes on Indian bodies—whether they were beaten, imprisoned, relocated, or expelled from the territories of Bombay, you can see how notions of sovereignty, personhood, citizen, and subject were being negotiated through the body.” Pant wrote on the legal and illegal economy of violence in colonial Bombay for her Senior Project in historical studies at Bard College. After a bloody revolt in 1857, known as the Indian Mutiny, rule of Indian territories shifted from The East India Company to the British crown. According to Pant, the brutal public execution for alleged mutiny of two Muslim sepoys (soldiers)—the men were blown out of cannons on the main green in Bombay—became an early symbol of crown rule. During this period, crimes brought before Bombay’s Court of Petty Sessions were often punished physically. “Selling tobacco illegally could get you flogged, imprisoned, or sentenced to work in a hard labor camp,” says Pant. “It is interesting to see in these documents how the British administration made things that were blatantly illegal within Britain—like forced labor and corporeal punishment—legal in the colonies.” Pant shows how the British relied on judicial punishment as well as an illegal economy of slavery to maintain their colonial power. A 200-page inquiry between the Court of Directors in London, the local police magistrate in Bombay, and the judiciary in Bombay documents the discovery of illegal slavery. “People were being bought and sold in Bombay—not only African slaves, but Indians also,” says Pant. “Today, we think about countries being successful at maintaining their states through good governance, but the British were reliant on coercion—depending on legal and extralegal methods of violence to maintain their dominions.” Pant began her research with the support of a grant awarded by Bard’s Dean of the College Office. She spent the summer going through extensive archives at the University of California at Berkeley—such as old travelogues and handbooks kept by viscountesses and governors—to get a sense of Bombay in the mid-19th century. She then spent three weeks in Bombay, poring over boxes of 19th-century East India Company Judicial Department records. In addition to conducting research in the Maharashtra State archives, Pant interviewed a Bombay secret service agent, police officials, and lower administrative clerks—many of whom were also scholars and historians. Born and raised in Bombay, Pant is a graduate of Kodaikanal International School in the mountains of southern India. She received her B.A. in historical studies from Bard College in May 2006 and was awarded the Marc Bloch Prize for her Senior Project. Pant will begin her Ph.D. in anthropology at Harvard University in September 2006. A native speaker of both Hindi and English, Pant has studied Spanish and French and plans to learn Arabic and Swahili. ###

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This event was last updated on 09-01-2006