The Question of Treason: Just Rebellion and Colonial Law

Tue May 14th 2024, 12:00pm
Event Sponsor
Center for South Asia
History Department
Encina Hall
616 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305
Reuben Hills Conference Room (E207)

Event Description
Do debates about treason and just rebellion hold significance for theories of modern emergency and public security law? My paper explores the overlooked legal debates about the definition of treason and the legitimacy of rebellion in early nineteenth-century southern Asia. While the East India Company's expansion and colonial rule in the region are well-documented, less known is that it was unable to successfully define and punish treason through its entire existence. The debates about treason and rebellion involved Company governors, imperial authorities, military legal experts, and a non-European judiciary trained in Islamic law. The debates challengedcolonial regime's claims to sovereignty and plunged it into periodic crises. My paper will discuss how faced with treason’s undecidability, the Company’s government legalized spectacular and routine state and non-state violence and incarceration. It retooled martial law, innovatedpreventive detention, and policed sedition. Yet these statutory foundations of emergency and the modern security state could not sufficiently define treason, suggesting that the modern colony is, in fact, an exemplary arena for exploring the vulnerability of state sovereignty to the undecidability of treason and ideas of just rebellion. 

About the Speaker
Bhavani Raman is Associate Professor of History, University of Toronto. Her first book Document Raj: Scribes and Writing in Early Colonial South India (Univ. of Chicago 2012) focused on cultures of paperwork, information, and law in colonial lndia. She is currently working on two projects. The first is a monograph on the emergence of South Asia’s modern security laws such as state offences, sedition, martial law, and preventive detention in early colonial India. The second is a collaborative project on the environmental and legal history of the coastal city of Chennai and its wetlands.