Dishonoured by History

Dishonoured by History

Product ID: 8844

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Author: Meena Radhakrishna
Publisher: Orient Longman
Year: 2001
Language: English
Pages: 435
ISBN/UPC (if available): 812502090X


In this path-breaking study, Meena Radhakrishna traces the history and implications of a piece of colonial legislation—the Criminal Tribes Act. She examines the changing notions of crime and criminality over a period of time, and show how traditional prejudice against gypsies combined with realpolitik on the one hand, and with science on the other, to feed into the category ‘hereditary criminal’.

Focusing on the itinerant trading community of Koravas in colonial Madras, Dr Radhakrishna studies in detail the process of its forced sedentarisation in a police and missionary-run settlement. Here the community was meant to be reformed, albeit more through wage work than evangelism. The study shows how in spite of severe and repeated ruptures from its past, the community survived and has forged a strong contemporary trade union movement.

The archival sources used in this study establish the community to have been an honorable and useful part of sedentary society in the past. However, through a careful analysis of its present oral culture and folklore, Dr Radhakrishna shows that its members have lost memory of that history, and share the widespread belief of the community’s earlier, dangerous criminality.

An extraordinary book that casts light on a problem that the denotified tribes continue to face even today.


Foreword by Mahasweta Devi


1. The Criminal Tribes Act: Historical Developments
2. Notification and Surveillance
3. The Concept and Policy of Criminal Tribe Settlements
4. Land Reclamation, Industrial Recruitment and Settlements
5. From Itinerant Community to Industrial Wageworkers: Stuartpuram Settlements
6. Historic Memory