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SOAS South Asia Institute

The 'rare infliction': The Great War and the abolition of flogging in the Indian Army

Radhika Singha

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.

Speaker's biography

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

Contact email: ssai@soas.ac.uk

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