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The History of Anthropometry and Fingerprinting in Colonial South Asia  

Mira Rai Waits

In the late 19th century, an obsession with identifying and classifying people emerged in the West. Efforts to develop lines of inquiry to support this obsession were common; visual technologies were harnessed and invented to further the acquisition of knowledge about human identity and classification. Anthropometry, the measurement of the human individual to understand physical variation, was used as the foundation for Bertillonage, a system designed to identify recidivists through a standardized collection of images and data sets about the human body. Consequently, anthropometry came to be associated with broader efforts to manage crime in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as law enforcement touted the potential of visual technologies and their related archival systems as mechanisms for improving criminal identification. This interest in visual technologies and criminal identification coupled with the colonial exploration of South Asia in the 19th century led to anthropometric studies of South Asian peoples. Some of these studies were tied to institutions of colonial law enforcement, such as the police or prison system, but others, including the late 19th-century study of the people of the Andaman Islands, demonstrate how the broader obsession with human identification and classification was tied to efforts to study race as a measurable subject. Colonial civil servants also turned to visual technologies for assistance with the management of colonial subjects. In 1858, Sir William James Herschel, the chief administrator of the Hooghly district of Bengal, after observing a native practice where fingermarks were used as marks of authenticity for the illiterate, began to experiment with taking handprints and fingerprints as identifying images. Scottish doctor Henry Faulds had contemporaneously expressed a similar interest in studying fingerprints after observing sample prints on ancient pottery while serving as a medical missionary in Japan. Herschel shared his findings with Sir Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, who, after reviewing Herschel’s findings, posited that fingerprints were permanent visual markers of identity. Following this observation, Sir Edward Richard Henry, inspector-general of police of Bengal, along with police sub-inspectors Chandra Bose and Azizul Haque, developed a classification system for using fingerprints to identify recidivist criminals. This system was exported from colonial India to Britain and then on to police organizations globally.

Article

Partition and the Reorganization of Commercial Networks  

Rinchan Ali Mirza

The Partition of British India represents one of the largest episodes of involuntary mass migration in recorded history—an estimated 17 million people were displaced because of the event. Among the many changes that resulted from the Partition was the substantive untangling of the business architecture that had developed under the colonial regime. A central feature of the untangling was the separation of the extensive commodity trade network that had developed in areas that went to Pakistan from its agro-processing base that was inherited by areas that became part of post-independence India. The implications of such a restructuring of the business architecture were particularly relevant for Pakistan, which started off with a severe imbalance between its commodity trade and industrial sectors, the former of which was at a much more advanced stage than the latter. The rudimentary industrial base from which Pakistan started off in turn fostered a greater reliance of the state on the private capital of a small business elite when it came to promoting industrial growth. It is the changing dynamics of just such a relationship between the state and a small close knit business elite that has characterized the post-Partition business history of the country.

Article

Elephant Management in the Brahmaputra Uplands and Beyond: An Historical Approach  

Nicolas Lainé

Drawing on the history of human–elephant relationships in Brahmaputra uplands in precolonial, colonial, and contemporary periods, this article highlights at least long-standing two elephant management systems: the dominant power of each period with its corresponding war, imperialist, or conservation purposes and that of the local populations for whom elephants represent an essential part of their daily life and a source of livelihood, even though they simultaneously remain at the service of the dominant power. Through the ages, the local inhabitants’ relationship with elephants has evolved, and the presence of these animals alongside human societies has shaped the culture, identity, and ecology of the region. In the six centuries of the Ahom kingdom, and the two centuries of British rule, local knowledge of elephants has always played a role in state policy, often by force. However, after independence, international norms of conservation have tended to remove human settlements from elephant habitats and exclude consideration of local knowledge of elephants, to the detriment of all parties. The interests and knowledge of local people need to be engaged if elephant populations are to survive. At the same time, exploring the extensive literature on the connection between humans and elephants could provides fresh perspectives on the region’s history, social structures, and geopolitical significance between South and Southeast Asia.

Article

The Indus River  

David Gilmartin

The Indus is the westernmost of the great arc of rivers across southern and eastern Asia flowing from the Tibetan plateau, and its watershed today includes parts of China, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. Flowing through a predominantly arid region, it was the site of South Asia’s earliest urban civilization in the 3rd millennium bce. Today, it features some of the most highly developed irrigation works in the world, supporting large agricultural populations on the plains of Pakistan and in northwestern India. Its history has been defined not only by the dynamics of the Indus river system, with its highly seasonal, monsoon-fed flows descending from the mountains, but also by its critical role in defining a transitional zone of migration and mobility situated between central Asia and the Iranian plateau, on the one hand, and the wetter parts of the Indian subcontinent, on the other. Within this context, it played a critical role in the coming of Islam to the subcontinent from the west. Since the late 19th century it has been the site of one of the modern world’s most dramatic irrigation-based transformations, rooted in British colonial canal-building and the opening of large canal colonies for agricultural settlement. What was already the world’s largest, integrated irrigation system was divided between India and Pakistan in 1947 (with the larger part going to Pakistan). The subsequent Indus Waters Treaty of 1960, which was intended to facilitate the continuing management of the river basin, accomplished this only through the intensification of irrigation investment and the maximization of the available water’s “use,” with all the difficult environmental and political challenges that has brought.

Article

Tibetan Exiles in India  

Sonika Gupta

Since 1959, after the flight of the Dalai Lama from Tibet, thousands of Tibetans have lived in protracted exile in India. India hosts the largest number of Tibetan exiles in the world and is also the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration (formerly known as the Tibetan Government in Exile) and the Tibetan Parliament in Exile. The Indian government has made a long-term commitment to Tibetan rehabilitation by setting up tens of designated Tibetan settlements in different parts of the country. These settlements are grouped into agricultural, handcraft-based, and cluster communities. While there has been definite economic and educational progress for the exile community in India, Tibetans continue to be stateless. Since 2000, there has been increased migration from Tibetan settlements in India to North America, Europe, and Australia as people search for a more stable legal status and better life opportunities. The Tibetan settlements in India, with their network of monasteries, schools, and other cultural institutions, remain the primary site of the Tibetan struggle for the homeland that is focused on the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet under conditions of genuine autonomy. Therefore, sustaining these settlements is becoming a critical issue for the Central Tibetan Administration. As the Tibetan struggle for its homeland reaches its seventh decade in exile, it is undergoing parallel processes of institutionalized democratization and political fragmentation along regional and other lines.

Article

Were-Tigers of Odisha in Adivasi Folklore  

Stefano Beggiora

The Meriah Wars, a series of conflicts that bloodied the central districts of the state of Odisha (India) in the 19th century, pitted the indigenous populations of the Konds against the British army. Historiographic sources demonstrate that although the apparent British casus belli claimed an intent to suppress the Konds because of their practice in human sacrifice, the evidence remains unreliable and incomplete on how the Konds actually followed this ritual and indicates that the British Raj’s true motivations lay elsewhere. Sources instead illustrate concretely that the British Raj focused its actual attention on areas that, until recently, drew scarce interest but reflected its increasingly urgent need to extend and consolidate the colonial rule in the belt of central-eastern India. This cultural clash with the Konds would later highlight the limited understanding of Europeans about the crucial role that many indigenous peoples played in the political balance and as social subjects in the buffer zones on the edge of the forests. If it has been reported that the Konds were often chased, persecuted, and shot down like beasts and that their villages were set on fire in this dark page of colonial history, it is also true that their communities were fluid entities capable of evading peace treaties, using the harsh and unexplored jungle terrain to their advantage and sometimes mounting a strenuous resistance. This uncontrollability is probably the main reason for their misrepresentation in colonial sources, which often emphasize the gruesome aspects of human sacrifice and the Konds’ prowess in the witchcraft arts. It is in this context that the ability of some tribesmen to transform themselves into were-tigers and possibly prevail over an otherwise stronger enemy is first recorded. The practice of theriomorphism has survived to this day, along with a shamanic-type religiosity among the Kond minorities still populating the Kandhmal district. Therefore, an ethnographic approach allows not only for a detailed investigation into this still little-known phenomenon and a clearer analysis of certain aspects of this community’s history but also a deeper understanding of the wide relational spectrum of the Konds with their territory and the wildlife surrounding them and as they coped with the challenges imposed by modernity.

Article

The State-Subject Question in Kashmir  

Shahla Hussain

The state subject category is a critical part of Kashmir’s history. It gained global traction in August 2019 after India’s far-right Bhartiya Janta party unilaterally abolished the state subject laws embedded in Article 35A of the Indian constitution that permitted only the longtime inhabitants of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir to purchase land and seek employment in the state. This category’s history stems from the Kashmiri Pandit community’s tireless agitation in the early 20th century in response to outsiders’ encroachment on their jobs. Consequently, the Dogra princely state formed the Jammu and Kashmir State Subject Definition Committee in 1927, differentiating mulki “people of the land” from gairmulki “people not of the land” and privileging mulkis in land ownership and employment. This legal category remained operative after the first India–Pakistan war of 1948, which led to the division of the princely state into India- and Pakistan-administered territories. Local governments on both sides of the ceasefire line, later called the line of control, retained the state subject category and made it a part of their state constitutions. In India-administered Kashmir, the state subject category has polarized public opinion. The Kashmiri nationalist leadership negotiated a special status for Kashmir within the Indian Union. Article 370 granted Kashmir full autonomy, and Article 35A constitutionalized the state subject category and provided the residents of Jammu and Kashmir special citizenship rights. In the early 1950s, India’s centralization policy eroded Kashmir’s autonomous status, while the Hindu nationalists demanded complete integration and an end to special citizenship privileges. Non-Muslim minorities, most, if not all, aligned with Hindu-majority India and supported the abrogation of the state subject category, as it was a hindrance to Kashmir’s complete integration. Ironically, this posture of Kashmiri Hindus stood in stark contrast to the state-subject agitation led by their early 20th-century predecessors for protecting their communitarian interests. Conversely, Kashmiri Muslims insecure about their fate in Hindu majority India made the State Subject category the essence of their political identity and firmly believed that the discontinuation of this legal category would alter Kashmir’s demography and minoritize their community. The historicization of the state subject question reveals how the categories of majority and minority constructed by the British colonial powers continue to define power dynamics in Kashmir and shape and reshape political postures and relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Article

Bangladeshis in Italy  

Andrea Priori

The Bangladeshi population in Italy boomed in 1990, spreading from Rome and forming local enclaves shaped by migration chains; it is the second-largest Bangladeshi group in Europe and sees a preponderance of Sunni Muslims, a large majority of working-age men, and poor access of women to employment. Although both Italian institutions and migrant associations promoted a monolithic image of the “Bangladeshi community” as a category of political visibility, Italian Bangladeshis present considerable variety in terms of geographic origin and ideological affiliations and important differences in terms of social origins between endangered middle classes and urban middle classes with steady economic situations. Interaction with the Italian institutions results in further differentiation between “legal” and undocumented migrants, which overlaps, in part, with that between those in northern Italy, where Bangladeshi workers are generally entitled to full rights, and those in Rome and the south, where the informal economy is widespread. The large presence of undocumented working-age men fuels marginality and exploitation, both by natives and co-nationals. Patronage relations between co-nationals are crucial in providing access to emigration, housing, and employment and add to the dynamics of self-organization, especially in the case of secular associations. A peculiar characteristic of Italian Bangladeshis is the tendency to form mononational organizations (both secular and Islamic) that proliferate by virtue of scissions, along with transnationalism and entrepreneurship. In contrast, the new generation tends to move beyond communal introversion and transnationalism, but this is limited to only those with promising careers. Even among young people, extensive areas of marginality exist; this results in the persistence of attitudes typical of the migrant generation and reproduces among those who grew up in Italy the distinction, characteristic of the situation of the migrants, between those who have been successfully incorporated into Italian society and those suffering social exclusion.

Article

The Line of Control in Kashmir  

Mato Bouzas

The ceasefire line that has divided the disputed formerly princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (1846–1947) since 1949, following the involvement of the United Nations (UN) to end the first India–Pakistan war for the control of that state, was renamed in 1972 the Line of Control (LoC). The LoC is the result of the Simla Agreement that ended the 1971 war between India and Pakistan and marked the diminishing role of the UN in the conflict. Although the LoC is formally referred to as a border, it is very much contested, not only by the states of India, Pakistan, and the wide spectrum of Kashmiri nationalism but also, more broadly, by those living in the nearby areas on both sides who have been affected by this construct in multiple ways. As an ambivalent border, the LoC not only divides people, land, and resources—separates several political-administrative spatial units—but is also on its own a producer of a space, the symbolic and material meaning of which varies over time. From an initial (thin) line formed to delineate an end of hostilities as part of the Karachi Agreement of 1949, and, presumably, invite further negotiation, the LoC has turned in the two first decades of the 21st century into a (thick) fortress due to technological and military advances that allow a more effective control of territory. India’s fencing of the side it controls after the 2000s, initially to stop cross-border terrorism, re-creates an illusion of state spatiality that also justifies further compartmentalization and incorporation of the space under its control, as has been exemplified in the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act, 2019. The limited cross-LoC mobility for people and goods established after 2005, following the India–Pakistan dialogue, is a highly bureaucratized process. As a result of this monitoring of mobility, the LoC is becoming more border-like.

Article

Mobilities across European Banglascapes  

Francesco Della Puppa

Bangladeshi migration to Europe began as early as the 1600s, when young Bengali men worked as deckhands on British ships bound for London. The British capital became home to what would become, in the following centuries, the largest Bangladeshi community in Europe. However, in the 1970s, the United Kingdom and other continental European countries that had traditionally been destinations for international migration (e.g., the Federal Republic of Germany, France, and Switzerland), tightened their control over new arrivals. At the same time, Mediterranean European countries, which had recently undergone profound social and economic transformations, established themselves as new destinations for migration from the “Global South.” This meant that by the 1990s, Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal were among the main destinations for Bangladeshi migration to Europe. The next twenty years saw the 2008 global economic crisis (which hit southern European countries particularly hard) as well as changes in the expectations and the legal and family status of Bangladeshi migrants in Mediterranean Europe (the second generation was born, and the first generation had acquired European passports). Hence, a new migration began to take shape, with Bangladeshi communities again moving to London, but this time from Mediterranean Europe. However, the migratory mobility of these Bangladeshi Europeans has not ended: while some have settled in the United Kingdom, even acquiring British citizenship, many others, because of the disillusionments concerning the United Kingdom as well as the implementation of Brexit, have decided to retrace their steps partially, returning to Mediterranean Europe or settling in other European countries. Meanwhile, many unskilled Bangladeshi workers who previously migrated to Libya also find themselves undertaking a further migration, crossing the Mediterranean to claim asylum in Italy. This demonstrates the ever-increasing complexity of interwoven mobilities across European Banglascapes.