The 'rare infliction': The Great War and the abolition of flogging in the Indian Army
Date: 29 October 2014Time: 5:15 PM
Finishes: 29 October 2014Time: 7:00 PM
Venue: Faber Building, 23/24 Russell SquareRoom: FG01
Type of Event: Talk
Series: SSAI Seminar Programme
This paper examines two ‘peculiarities’ of Indian military law at the high noon of empire, the Summary Court-Martial (SCM), and the retention of flogging for Indian soldiers when it was abolished for the British soldier in 1881. Flogging in the Indian Army offers us one of those scenarios in which the rarity of a punishment becomes one of the strongest arguments for retaining it. It was viewed as the symbolic lynchpin of the wide-ranging powers vested in the Commanding Officer of a ‘native’ corps when he convened a SCM.
The consolidation of Indian military law was delayed by the reluctance of the military authorities in India to let the flogging issue enter the domain of Parliamentary discussion. This owed something to turn of the century policy clashes between the party in power and the Viceroy’s Council in India. Secondly, while escalating international rivalries required that the Indian Army be recast as a ‘truly imperial force’, distinctions in pay, institutional care and the disciplinary code which marked race -segmentation in military employment had to be retained. The paper assesses the political reasons why it became possible in 1911 to pass a consolidated Indian Army Act, yet one which curtailed but still did not abolish flogging.
The incidence of flogging in the Indian Army probably went up during World War one. Yet war-mobilisation also widened the interface between the military and civil society in India and there were some discreet negotiations around the issue. Flogging was removed by an amendment to the Indian Army Act in 1920. What escaped public scrutiny were other features such as the SCM, a harsher scale of punishment and collective fines for loss of military property which continued to distinguish the Indian Army Act from the British Army Act.
Radhika Singha teaches history at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research themes focus on the social history of crime and criminal law, as also on colonial governmentality with specific reference to identification practices and techniques. The mobilisation of human resources from India for World War one has become a third often intersecting research track. She has published a book titled A Despotism of Law: Crime and Justice in Early Colonial India (Oxford University Press, 1998), and articles on colonial identification practices, law and infrastructural power, colonial travel documents, and non-combatant labour in World War one.
Organiser: SOAS South Asia Institute
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