North American Conference on British Studies 3
This panel considers the place of exceptional legal powers in the establishment, expansion and consolidation – as well as the enduring instability – of state authority at colonial frontiers. Each panelist examines extraordinary law in British Indian frontier zones to interrogate its relationship to ordinary law and jurisdictional politics. In the colonial official imagination, the unsettled frontiers of empire loomed as the limit of civilization and hence of the rule of law. For each of these papers, then, the British Indian frontier offers a way to trace how the carving out of exceptional juridical spaces was a key strategy for regulating mobility and fixing state sovereignty in the quintessential modern form of territorial jurisdiction. Debates over the legality of force and exceptional intervention at the frontier elucidate the processes by which counter-insurgency practices were incorporated as a key component of the everyday rule of law.
Taking their cue from scholarly work on the jurisprudence of emergency and racialized discourses of civilization that underwrote colonial rule, each paper approaches the jurisprudence of exception as a way to grasp and distill normative practices of exercising authority. They analyze the role of race in the production of criminality, and law's function in securing control in a colonial context. Bhavani Raman’s paper examines the official correspondence on the suspension of law in the East India Company’s South Indian territories in the early nineteenth century. The paper argues that exceptional interventions such as the invocation of martial law expanded the role of executive discretion in determining the jurisdictional boundaries and the pacification of Madras. Elizabeth Kolsky’s paper examines colonial law and policy at the northwestern frontier of British India. By interrogating the notion that exceptional circumstances demanded exceptional legislation, Kolsky argues that the core nature of colonial power is revealed in the extraordinary practices implemented at the fringes of the empire. Eric Beverley’s paper considers state practices along the Hyderabad Princely State-British Bombay Presidency border, detailing the fraught relationship between colonial disciplinary institutions and knowledge forms there. Beverley examines extraterritorial colonial policing initiatives to suggest that British power in the frontier zone worked via state-sanctioned illegalities, while Hyderabadi judicial sovereignty fixed limits to colonial power.
The three papers assess exceptional strategies that underwrote the expansion and consolidation of colonial legal authority in South Asia. Collectively, the panel seeks to demonstrate that elasticity and violence were absorbed into the very fabric of the rule of law through exceptional jurisdictional power and rendered imperial sovereignty volatile.