The law that refuses to die: Preventive detention in early colonial India

Bhavani Raman, a noted historian of modern India, will talk about the colonial-era roots of the laws of preventive detention that are used in India even today.

Humanities Seminar 17 Feb Bhavani Raman

Preventive detention empowers the executive to seize and hold individuals indefinitely without trial in the name of public security. Bhavani Raman’s paper recovers the early history of preventive detention to show how the norm of liberty is remade by restricting access to justice. 

The widely used provisions of preventive detention first emerged globally in India as Bengal Regulation III, 1818 under East India Company rule. However, little is known about the circumstances of its emergence. 

Raman show that Regulation III, 1818 was developed in Madras because the Company was forced to acquiesce to an idea of justice that obligated sovereign authority to protect subjects from unfair detention. 

In response, it innovated a form of police custody from abduction practiced in the private sphere to restrict access to justice in the name of public security. This restriction laid the foundations of the state authority on a patriarchal compact with land-holding heads of households by tethering the imaginary of public security to the geography of the agrarian conquest of Andhra and Odisha Hills in India.

About the speaker

Bhavani Raman is an associate professor and associate chair at the Historical and Cultural Studies Department at the University of Toronto. Her research lies at the intersections of law, culture and intellectual histories of South Asia.