Decolonizing Public Order: Law and Emergency in India, 1915-1955

Javed Wani

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

527 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis sets out to investigate how lawwas used as a tool of governance in late colonial and early postcolonial India, with special reference to the invocation of states of exception or simply, extraordinary laws. The question is closely related to another issue, the creation of certain ‘problem categories’ to whom the normal process of law did not apply and which represented a legalised and permanent state of exception. With regards to both questions this thesis has found a consistency in perspective across the colonial – post-colonial divide. Bureaucrats in independent India were just as obsessed with maintaining peace and tranquillity as the colonial law and order administration. The case studies discussed in this thesis are diverse both in terms of their focus on different regions and the analytic angle of each instance involved. They include an analysis of the workings of the Defence of India Act of 1915 and the Rowlatt Bills in the 1910s, followed by more bottom-up case studies of how Section 144 CrPC was deployed in local emergencies in several provinces across India. Of particular importance in this context is Uttar Pradesh (UP) which is used to compare governmental practice under the pre and post-Independence Congress administrations. A certain overall pattern emerges from these case studies. For one, there was an increasing trend to normalize states of exception for the sake of maintaining law and order. At the same time, there was an important but subtle shift amongst the kind of situations leading to the invocation of extraordinary legislations and, the nature of those ‘exceptional categories’ of people- or problem categories to whom the normal rule of law was not believed to apply, from late colonial and early postcolonial India. The Raj started witha number of relatively clearly defined problem categories – badmaashes,dacoits, thuggs, unruly labour, communists – it often had to totalise the potential reach of emergency legislation to the entire Indian populace. In post-colonial times, such a totalization was often reversed but a sense of problem categories nevertheless persisted.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Daechsel, Markus, Supervisor
  • Robinson, Francis, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Dec 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 20 Nov 2017


  • Decolonization, Law, extraordinary laws, Exception,
  • colonialism, postcolonialism, South Asia, India
  • Violence, repression

Cite this